Airlines do away with social distancing on board

Do not expect the middle seat or for that matter the seat next to you to be empty when you fly.

Back when the coronavirus started to take its toll on air travel, airlines had given assurances that the middle seat would be kept vacant or that there would be a limit on the capacity as a way to social distance in order to reduce possible infection of the disease.

It was easy then when the load dropped to as low as 95 per cent for many carriers as there was never a squeeze on seats. But as travel creeps back, airlines are finding it does not make economic sense to forgo revenue to keep seats empty, never mind the risk of exposing their customers to the hazard.

Courtesy Getty Images

Air Canada and WestJet will end their seat distancing policy effective 1 July. They are sheltering behind the guidelines of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) which deems this to be unnecessary while recommending other measures such as the wearing of masks.

Similarly American Airlines announced that it will open booking to full capacity. The same goes with United Airlines, although it will allow passengers to rebook on another flight if the capacity exceeds 70 per cent. It is not a decision any traveller will be happy to make at the last minute.

Across the Atlantic, Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary has called social distancing in seating “just nonsense”.

It seems contradictory if airlines and airports would encourage social distancing before and after boarding that they should deem the need as unnecessary on board which is an even smaller confined space within which passengers may be held for an inordinately long period of time. The IATA recommendation in this respect therefore runs counter to the guidelines set by several governments.

Transport Canada,for example, has said: “Operators should develop guidance for spacing passengers aboard aircraft when possible to optimize social distancing.” But, of course, “where possible” may become not possible if carriers are selling to full capacity unless it becomes mandatory to limit the capacity.

In the United States, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has urged airlines to maintain at least one seat between all passengers and cap seating at 67 per cent of capacity on narrow-body planes.

What then is the priority, you may ask? It seems it is up to the passenger to take the chances, but surely it must be in the interest of the community that everyone abides by the same set of health rules. Besides, contradictory recommendations can only cause confusion.

…but not Delta Air Lines

Courtesy Getty Images

Delta Air Lines though will continue to limit the capacity on board to no more than 60 per cent. Chief executive Ed Bastian said: “We need to make certain that we take all precautions for our people, for our customers, reinforcing wearing masks, social distancing, keeping our plans only at 60 per cent full, making certain every seat next to a customer is open, so you have space on board, and doing everything we can to be cautious in the face of the spread.”

Mr Bastian added that Delta will continue with the policy post-September, although the cap may change after that.

Like Delta, presently Southwest Airlines and JetBlue are also blocking middle seats or restricting capacity. Ryanair’s rival easyJet is also doing likewise.

Air travellers should know what to or not expect when they book with a particular airline to avoid disappointment and be prepared if they have any concerns about the current situation of flying during a global pandemic.

About Dingzi
Writer by passion, with professional expertise in aviation, customer service and creative writing. Aviation veteran with more than 30 years' experience, columnist, pubished author of fiction, poetry, plays and travel stories, editor and management consultant. Nature lover who abhors cruelty of any form to animals, and a tireless traveler.

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