I flew Delta for the first time since it stopped blocking middle seats and found cracks showing in its mask enforcement- here's what it was like

·13 min read
Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider
  • Delta Air Lines stopped blocking middle seats on May 1, after more than a year with the policy.

  • The strategy was key in differentiating Delta from its competitors in terms of health and safety.

  • I found the airline adjusting fine to the change on its aircraft but not in all of its airports.

  • See more stories on Insider's business page.

Delta Air Lines is no longer blocking middle seats onboard its aircraft.

Delta Air Lines Airbus A220
A Delta Air Lines Airbus A220. Nicolas Economou/Shutterstock.com

The 13-month era came to an end on May 1, when Delta became the last US airline to end the pandemic policy that started in April 2020.

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The program was abandoned by all airlines as more flyers took to the skies, and scientific studies proved the effectiveness of mask-wearing in stopping the onboard spread of COVID-19.

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Along with Delta's other safety measures, the policy made the airline one of the best airlines to fly during the pandemic, as Insider found on numerous flights since June. By not blocking seats, Delta is forced to fall back on its other policies in convincing travelers to choose the airline.

Flying on Delta Air Lines during pandemic
Flying on Delta Air Lines during the pandemic. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I flew Delta home to New York from Phoenix via Minneapolis on the first day flights were being booked to capacity.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I walked into Terminal 3 at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport and found the Delta check-in area completely retrofitted with new safety features.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Social distancing placards guided the way to plexiglass-covered check-in counters...

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Mask reminder signage was placed on stanchions along the check-in line.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Not all travelers abided by the six feet rule but it was a good showing on Delta's part.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I opted to use the self-serve kiosks to avoid the line. They weren't spaced six feet apart but were also not right on top of each other.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Then came the health acknowledgment, which is standard on most US airlines now. I had to confirm that I hadn't tested positive for COVID-19, hadn't been exposed to the virus, and would comply with Delta's face covering rules.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Ticket in hand, I made my way to the gate. Delta uses the new Terminal 3 South Concourse in Phoenix, which was similarly retrofitted to include social distancing reminders.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The gate had the same setup of social distancing measures as check-in including floor placards, mask reminders, plexiglass partitions, and hand sanitizer.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Phoenix is a popular airport for Delta but certainly not a hub. Still, it was impressive to see the airline go all out here as it would in one of its main bases.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Some seats in the gate area were also blocked by the airline for distancing.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Taking us to Minneapolis was a massive Boeing 767-400ER. Delta has been using more of these wide-body aircraft on domestic routes since they're not needed for long-haul international flights right now.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Most of the plane boarded from the back to the front. Delta is one of the few carriers still maintaining the back-to-front boarding procedure after competitors like JetBlue and United abandoned it in recent months.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Even the jetway had social distancing reminders. These are also largely ignored by passengers but it's still a good showing that Delta took the time to install them.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Flight attendants were extremely diligent at the boarding door, reminding passengers to wear their masks and offering new ones to those who didn't have proper coverings. One of the passengers ahead of me was told she needed a new mask and even I was told to fix my mask as it wasn't adequately fitted to my face.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

All passengers were also given Purell wipes at boarding. Delta is also one of the few airlines to still do this.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I was upgraded to first class for the flight to Minneapolis. It's one of the benefits of Delta flying wide-body aircraft on leisure routes with minimal business travelers.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The seat was impeccably clean and I had no concerns about it being sanitized properly.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I settled into my seat and noticed flight attendants frequently pacing the aisle with bags ready to collect any trash, including the wipes. The cabin offered an incredibly private experience, away from a nearly full economy cabin.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Multiple announcements were made during boarding to remind flyers of the federal mask rules.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The lead flight attendant outlined the specifics of what Delta was doing to keep flyers safe, what it calls the "Delta CareStandard." Soon after, we blasted off into the Arizona sky.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Read More: I went behind the scenes at JFK airport to see how Delta is overhauling its airport experience to try to convince flyers air travel is safe

Flight attendants began the in-flight service just after takeoff. It took a bit longer than my last Delta flight, but for good reason: snacks and drinks are back.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

A selection of drinks ranging from sodas to juices, as well as coffee and tea, were available for the first time since last year. A wider selection of alcoholic beverages was also available, including pre-mixed drinks.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

But first-class meals were still relegated to snack boxes, with two available on this flight. Economy class was just given snacks like almonds or Biscoff cookies.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

And while there is a greater selection of drinks, they do come in miniature cans. It's a good start but other airlines are back to offering full-size cans.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I ordered both snack boxes to see exactly what they offered.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The bistro snack box that included the traditional meat, cheese, and cracker assortment that is standard on all airlines. It also includes some other goodies including Oreo cookies, gummy bears, Tic Tacs, a Kind bar, and potato chips.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Next came the market snack box, which offers beef jerky, almonds, a bar of Ghirardelli chocolate, a protein bar, a fruit bar, popped chips, and a mint. Both had their highlights, notably the beef jerky, almonds, and gummy bears, but didn't replace the traditional class hot meals.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I walked to the back of the plane mid-flight and was taken aback by the sight of a nearly full flight. I'd, of course, seen this on other airlines but not Delta.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Delta held out the longest of any US airline but ultimately had to start filling planes. Most were wearing masks but I did walk by just after snacks and drinks were handed out so some had taken off their covering to eat or drink.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

One thing that set Delta apart from the rest, more so than just its seat blocking policies, was that it went above and beyond with its safety features. In the lavatory, for example, a placard reminded passengers to wash their hands for 20 seconds.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Foot pedals that flush the toilet were also installed in the lavatories so that don't have to use their hands.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The three-hour flight to Minneapolis soon came to an end after a truly uneventful flight. I highly recommend this routing for those making the journey from Phoenix to New York if a connection is required since both flights go by fairly quickly.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I said "goodbye" to my first class seat and went to my next flight. This flight was nothing short of perfect in terms of health and safety.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

What came next is where the cracks started to show. I noticed while walking to my gate that there were some flyers flouting the mask rule. While there will always be some that will slip through the cracks, Delta staff didn't try to enforce the rule when they came into contact with the scofflaws.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

It was a surprise to me considering Delta has been very proactive with mask enforcement, as I saw on my flight prior, and banning passengers that don't comply.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Even with the multiple reminders to wear a mask in the airport, Delta staff are supposed to be the final line of defense in enforcing the rule.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I arrived at my gate and saw many of the same safety features as I saw in Phoenix.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Face covering reminders, plexiglass partitions, and hand sanitizer stations were all out in force.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Overhead signage also said the aircraft was being sanitized and that face coverings must be worn.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Delta has embraced all forms of communication to get its health and safety messages across, and it's another thing that sets the airline apart from competitors.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Seats in the gate area, however, weren't blocked off as they were in Phoenix.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Once more, the aircraft was impeccably clean. Before we even boarded I could even hear the gate agent double-checking to ensure that it was cleaned to standards.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I was upgraded again for this flight since it was less than half full. The seat was spotless.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

We once again boarded from back-to-front and flight attendants distributed Purell wipes.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Seat-back entertainment screens showed health and safety reminders during boarding. I hadn't seen this on my other Delta flights but was glad the in-flight entertainment system was being put to good use.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

The same face mask reminders were made as on the first flight but enforcement was once again tricky. We were delayed by around an hour leaving Minneapolis and were allowed to deplane. Some used it as an excuse to take off their masks.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

But we were soon airborne and passengers once again donned their masks. The in-flight serve was identical in first class, with a choice of two snack boxes for a meal.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I ordered both snack boxes again and knew which snacks to pick out of each for the perfect meal.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

I also tried one of the pre-mixed cocktails that come in cans. Flight attendants poured out the Old Fashioned into a cup with ice, and it was surprisingly good.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

Deplaning was the only chaotic part of the flight. We were delayed leaving Minneapolis and some passengers had to rush off of the plane to catch connecting flights.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

But other than that, the flight was mostly uneventful and enjoyable.

Flying Delta Air Lines During Pandemic Post-Middle Seat Block Ended 2021
Flying Delta Air Lines after it ended a policy of blocking middle seats. Thomas Pallini/Insider

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