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Delta First Class: Capacity Exceeding 50%?

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Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


Delta Air Lines has been committed to limiting capacity on its flights during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s blocking middle seats in coach and capping the total number of passengers allowed onboard its planes.

It originally kept domestic, single-aisle first class capacity at 50%. But that seems to have quietly changed.

We heard about a Delta passenger who received a first class upgrade they weren’t expecting during a recent trip. (Usually a great surprise!)

But this person was allegedly told by a gate agent that it’s now acceptable for first class to be over 50% capacity — as long as passengers traveling by themselves have their own rows. And those flying with companions can sit together (which is something Delta allowed pretty much from the outset of their COVID protocols). Couples/companions/friends/whatever sitting together makes available a seat in another row.

I contacted Delta to see if this was a new policy, a relaxed rule, or a new guideline.

A Delta spokesperson told us, “Since we block the adjacent seat for customers traveling alone, the cap will vary per flight. However, we’re still limiting the total number of sellable seats in First Class.” (Bold mine)

I write this post not out of criticism or trying to pull a Gotcha! on Delta. (In fact, the “sellable seats” data point clears up a bit of confusion.) But for those with trips coming up, I wanted to give you the heads-up that first class may be fuller than you expect. And maybe you’ll have a chance to enjoy an upgrade!

 

Featured image courtesy of Delta Air Lines

Rene’s Points For Better Travel, a division of Chatterbox Entertainment, Inc. has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Rene’s Points For Better Travel and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


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12 Comments

  1. FNT Delta Diamond Reply

    I’ve done about 50 flights since May. There is no uniform policy. I’ve been on flights with 15 people on the upgrade list and 5 or 7 seats but no upgrades — even with adjoining seats blocked or 50% capacity. Unfortunately, Delta seems to be letting crew use empty first-class seats. It’s my understanding that crew don’t count capacity restrictions. I’ve even see crew switch from sitting on a comfort-plus row of seats after the boarding door closed to sitting next to their colleague in the first row of first-class, which on same airplanes seems to be a makeshift jump seat now.

    Meanwhile, Delta will serve all the cheap beer and cheap wine you can drink at 7 a.m. but no coffee or no Coke.

  2. I had a discussion this past summer with the gate agent when my spouse companion and I were numbers 1 and 2 for 1 open FC seat. The gate agent asked me if we wanted to split up or they would give the upgrade to person 3 who was traveling alone. I agreed to split up and got the FC upgrade but the seat beside me was empty the entire flight. This policy made zero sense (and the gate agrnt agreed) as we are members of the same household traveling together on the same PNR. I still don’t understand this policy and perhaps now they have corrected it where in theory FC could be 100% full if everyone was traveling with someone on the same PNR.

    • I had the same issue as Frankie where they would only upgrade one of us even though we could have sat next to each other on the 757 in the 2:2 configuration. The gate agent told us it was because upgrading both of us would have put the 1st class cabin occupancy over 50%.

      In my experience during my 12 Delta flights between March and December 2020 the upgrades are 100% controlled by the gate agent and their understanding of the policy has been consistently inconsistent.

  3. Tony Mckissick Reply

    I recently flew on an embryo at 175 from Charleston to Atlanta and first class was 100% occupied. I wrote Delta an email and got a little bit of a confusing response

    • I recently flew LAS-ATL with my spouse. We ended up 1 and 2 on the list after they did all the upgrades that left 8 out of 20 seats empty. I talked to the gate agent when boarding and they said only one of us can get upgraded because there is a 65% limit on first class. I took it and then talked to the lead FA about bringing my spouse to the seat next to me (in fact the whole first row was empty). He said only the gate can do that (BS). A FA used first class empty seats regularly during the flight.

      • The FA using a first class empty seat could be due to physical distancing guidelines in place that keep FAs from sitting in jump seats next to each other.

        • Chris, 100% agree that on many flights they have an FA sit in an empty aisle seat in first for take-off, landing, and turbulence to not have FAs sitting in adjacent jump seats.

  4. Tony Mckissick Reply

    I recently flew on an embraer 175 from Charleston to Atlanta and first class was 100% occupied. I wrote Delta an email and got a little bit of a confusing response

  5. Steve Wallace Reply

    Yeah I call BS on Delta on this one!! Its all over the place, Ive traveled every month except march/april and have been frustrated to see empty rows in first when i was first on upgrade list….while I admire Deltas image ploy vs Americans ram and cram em in I think they get a black eye on execution. How hard is it to get and keep a clear policy. I finally decided to just burn my upgrade certificates and stop being irritated!!

  6. Barry Graham Reply

    I was on a plane where two adjacent seats were occupied by traveling partners. That makes sense to me as there is no requirement for them to maintain distance. It doesn’t make the cabin any less safe.

  7. The flights we have been on have kept to the rule and on some flights only one of us upgraded! Tho we could sit together in same row. They fly with more open seats vs upgrade both of us. 50% is alive and well

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