Why Delta Is Leaving Middle Seats Empty During the Pandemic

The number of people flying today is down about 75 percent from a year ago. And in the fight to attract those few passengers who remain, airlines have promoted their health and safety policies.Delta Air Lines has tried to stake a claim as one of the most cautious companies in the industry by promising to leave middle seats empty even as American Airlines and United Airlines are selling as many seats as they can. Delta has also said that it cleans planes between flights, tests all employees for the coronavirus and aggressively enforces a mask requirement. On Monday, it announced a partnership with Lysol’s parent company aimed at improving Delta’s cleaning practices.The man responsible for all of those initiatives is Bill Lentsch, a 30-year veteran of the airline who is its chief customer experience officer. In an interview, he explained Delta’s approach. Below are edited excerpts from the conversation.What does Delta hope to get out of working with Lysol?We hope to tap the 130 years of expertise that Lysol has — to transpose it into the cabin, into the lavatories on board the aircraft, into our facilities. Through our survey data, we hear that our cabins are very clean, but one thing our customers say is, “The lavatories are very clean when we get on board, but how can you keep them clean throughout the flight?” And this is the first area that we are going to target with Lysol, coming up with a product that will help us maintain cleanliness during flight on board the airplane. It doesn’t sound terribly glamorous, but it’s incredibly important to our people.
Delta has already teamed up with the Mayo Clinic. How has that partnership informed what you do?The Mayo Clinic partnership is phenomenal. They’ve been looking at our practices and policies with a very critical eye. They are also helping us develop our program to test all of our employees, not only the active virus but for the antibodies. Once we have all of our employees baseline tested, who do we then retest, at what frequency, and what are all the factors to determine that? The Mayo Clinic has a very sophisticated algorithm that they’re building to help with that. They’re providing general education to our employees and sitting on an advisory panel for us, too, so that we have an opportunity to run new policies, procedures and technologies by them.
ImageA Delta worker offers a passenger a face mask. The airline is enforcing a rule on face coverings.Credit…Michael A. Mccoy/Getty ImagesImageBoarding a flight to Minneapolis at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

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