Airline middle seats won't stay empty forever in the name of social distancing. Here's why - USA TODAY

Of all the safety steps airlines are taking to lure travelers back onto their planes in the coronvirus era, the empty middle seatis the most alluring.

What passenger in an aisle or window seat hasn’t wished or even prayed that the person heading down the aisle is not bound for the unoccupied seat next to them?

American, Southwest, United, Delta and other carriers are granting that wish in the name of social distancing by blocking middle seat assignments and/or not filling planes to capacity to assure passengers it’s safe to fly.

But passengers shouldn’t get too giddy about the extra space, experts and some airline executives say, because it won’t last forever.

“It’s a lovely soundbite,” said John Grant, senior aviation analyst with aviation analytics firm OAG. “It’s just not practical.”

He says the social distancing measures will be temporary, lasting perhaps through the Thanksgiving travel booking season.

It all comes down to money. Airlines make money when they fill a certain percentage of seats, and leaving middle seats empty means they’ll have to charge more for the remaining seats. 

The figure for low-cost carriers including Southwest and JetBlue, according to OAG: 52% more
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