NEW YORK - JetBlue reiterated its commitment to social distancing on its flights by blocking the purchase of middle seats through at least Oct. 15.
The airline said it will continue to block middle seats in rows where parties are not traveling together.
The announcement came as part of an update to the airline’s Safety from the Ground Up program, which is aimed at helping to ensure the safety of all of its passengers and staff.
“Our Safety from the Ground Up program continues to be a thoughtful and always evolving set of layered protection measures that demonstrates our commitment to keeping our crew members and customers safe while providing them with peace of mind in the air and on the ground,” said Joanna Geraghty, president and COO of JetBlue, in a news release.
“We continue to hear from our customers that added space onboard and travel flexibility are incredibly important to them during this time and we want them to know we are listening because we are all in this together,” she added.
As part of the “more space, fewer touchpoints” focus area of the airline’s safety program, JetBlue’s seat distancing policy ensures that customers are not directly seated next to a party they do not know. On its smaller aircraft, JetBlue is blocking aisle seats.
The airline was the first to require customers to wear facial coverings at the airport and throughout their entire flight time. Starting Aug. 10, the airline said it will ban the use of face masks with vents or exhalation valves, per recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and JetBlue’s own medical staff.
JetBlue will also no longer allow customers to claim exemptions from wearing a facial covering altogether.
“Our terminals and airplanes are a shared space, and every customer must wear a proper face covering or will need to delay their travel on JetBlue until face coverings are not longer required,” said Geraghty. “Our policy is meant to offer the strongest level of protection for everyone given all that we currently know about how COVID-19 is transmitted.”
Beyond requiring face masks, the airline has made additional efforts to help ensure traveler safety. Most recently, JetBlue became the first airline to use novel ultraviolet light technology from Honeywell in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Honeywell’s UV Cabin System claims to “traverse an aircraft cabin in less than 10 minutes” with ultraviolet light, and has been found to be capable of significantly reducing the amount of bacteria and viruses when properly applied.
While other airlines have worked to expand facial covering policies from their aircraft to airports, passengers have criticized decisions to continue to book middle seats.
American Airlines announced on July 1 that it will resume full-capacity flights amid the pandemic. The company said it will notify passengers when their planes are full and allow them to switch to less crowded flights at no extra cost through Sept. 30.
According to the International Air Transport Association, commercial aircraft utilize high-grade HEPA filters to filter the cabin air every 2 to 3 minutes and remove more than 99% of airborne particles, including the novel coronavirus.
Dr. Linsey Marr, a professor at Virginia Tech with expertise in airborne transmission of viruses and air quality, said that the greater concern with flying is the people seated next to you, who are potentially releasing virus into the air “that you could breathe in before it has a chance to make it through the airplane’s filtration system.”