Staffing shortages, record travel lead Delta to temporarily open middle seats

ATLANTA — Delta passengers landing at the Atlanta Airport Monday afternoon said they noticed a big change —every seat on the plane was up for grabs.

“When I got to my seat I seen there were three people sitting in the row,” said passenger Jocelyn Jones, who returned home from Vegas.

Marcus Benning, an Atlanta-based attorney returning home from Houston, added his vaccination status is what provided him some confidence, since he knew Delta had been blocking middle seats since last April.

“Sitting in that middle seat without social distancing can make you feel a little uncomfortable,” he said.

[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]

The airline confirms it temporarily opened middle seats on Sunday and Monday, a first since the pandemic and a month earlier than expected.

“Delta teams Sunday worked through various factors, including staffing, large numbers of employee vaccinations and pilots returning to active status. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and the majority have been rebooked for the same travel day.”


A reported excess of one million passengers flew the airline during the Easter holiday, exceeding travel records for the first time since the before the pandemic. Jones said she noticed the staffing shortages in Vegas earlier in the day.

“There were no workers there,” said Jones who said she worried she might miss her flight. “The Delta staff, you know when you check in? They wouldn’t let you drop your bags off . It was nobody working at all. It’s the first time I’ve experienced it on Delta.”

The combined factors led Delta to cancel 100 flights Sunday, including more than a dozen in Atlanta. By Monday, their cancellations were down to fewer than a dozen flights and a spokesperson said the airline was contacting all impacted customers with a ‘gesture of goodwill.’

Most of the impacted passengers had been rebooked the same day, the spokesman said.

On Tuesday, the airline will resume middle seat blocking through May 1st, their original policy extension day.

The last airline to enforce that policy, Delta previously indicated they expect the majority of their passengers who flew with them last year, 65%, to be vaccinated with at least one dose by May 1.

[DOWNLOAD: Free WSB-TV News app for alerts as news breaks]