March 31 (UPI) -- Delta Airlines will be reopening sales of its middle seats starting May 1, citing widespread COVID-19 vaccines and consumer demand for travel.
Delta is the last U.S. airline to lift the prohibition on booking middle plane seats, which was undertaken as a pandemic health precaution.
"As vaccinations become more widespread, consumer demand and behaviors show us that confidence in travel is on the rise, and customers are ready to reclaim their lives," Delta said in a statement.
The Atlanta-based air carrier has been blocking off the middle seats since April 2020, when flights became severely impacted by the pandemic.
"It's expensive. No question about it," Delta CEO Ed Bastian told CNN in February of keeping middle seats empty.
Those costs have been partially offset by higher airfares, he said.
Bastain said Wednesday the anticipated expanded availability of vaccines by May 1 contributed to the airline's decision to remove the restriction, stating that company research indicated that 64 percent of its passenger base will have at least one dose by then.
The Delta CEO warned in an internal memo that the expected rebound in air travel shall not be indicative of "return to normal" as "we're still in a pandemic."
Delta noted changes implemented since the pandemic are expected to continue this year, and perhaps become permanent. The airline recently reiterated policies, such as strengthening cleanliness protocols, elimination of change fees and wearing of masks, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.On March 12, the Transportation Security Administration recorded the most passengers traveling on a single day by air travel in a year -- 1,357,111.
In April 2020, the TSA reported the lowest travel volume for air travel, screening 87,500 passengers. In 2020, air travel plummeted 60 percent overall from 2019.
Those numbers look to rebound. Air travel market analysts have said recent bookings are close to early 2019 levels, Bloomberg News reported.
"We've seen some glimmers of hope over the course of the last year, but this seems like it's real," Bastian said Monday on a JPMorgan Chase & Co. conference call. "It seems substantive. Although we have a long ways to go yet, we are in a much better place than we have been in a good period of time."