PHOENIX (3TV/CBS5) - Beginning December 1, Southwest Airlines will open middle seats. The airline made the announcement as financial reports reveal Southwest lost $1.2 billion in the third quarter.
Southwest left the middle seats open for social distancing, but the airline says it will unblock the seats based on research that shows other Covid 19 safety precautions, including face masks, increased cleaning and HEPA filtration are "highly effective measures to protect against the transmission of Covid 19."
"This decision was not made lightly, " the airline told customers on social media. "We will continue to take a science-based approach as we evaluate our procedures and policies moving forward."
Scott Keyes, the founder of Scott's Cheap Flights says the move to open middle seats is all about the airline's bottom line.
"The real estate in an airplane itself is the most valuable commodity that an airline has," he told 3 On Your Side. "Trying to sell those seats is big bucks for them."
"You rarely see Southwest letting another airline position itself as more customer friendly than Southwest is, so the fact that Southwest is one of the ones who is rolling back the middle seat blocking policy earlier than say a Delta or an Alaska or a Jet Blue, I was a bit surprised," Keyes added.
Thursday, American Airlines also released its most recent financial report, which shows a $2.8 billion loss in the third quarter.
"We have a long road ahead and our team remains fully engaged and focused not just on managing through the pandemic, but on making sure we are prepared for when demand returns," Doug Parker, the airline's CEO said in a statement.
Despite the hemoraging of money across the airline industry, Keyes says the most recent financial reports are showing signs of slow improvements compared to the beginning of the pandemic.
"I think there’s very low likelihood that we see any airline going away the way a PanAM or TWA did," Keyes said. "Whether or not all the airlines will survive without going through bankruptcy – I'm not so sure I'm willing to risk my reputation and good name on that."
If a major airline declared bankruptcy, it would still operate as usual and flyers would maintain their miles, according to Keyes.