How can airlines best ensure the safety of their passengers on board? Airline trade group IATA used its weekly briefing to highlight several factors that play into the reduction of potential virus transmission between passengers. And while airlines around the globe grapple with the financial challenges of blocking middle seats, IATA believes that to be a wholly unnecessary measure, so long as other practices are followed.
Is it a necessary measure considering what the damage is? And that it doesn’t bring an improvement in safety?– IATA Director General/CEO Alexandre de Juniac
IATA’s Medical Advisor Dr. David Powell delivered the briefing this week, calling to attention a handful of scientific studies tied to contact tracing and the likelihood of transmissions on board. Further direct contact with airlines representing 14% of global traffic identified three instances of suspected transmission from passenger to crew, but none among passengers.
In addition to the HEPA filters on recirculated air and other, similar topics oft discussed, Powell identified three key factors that he believes further limit the spread on board. These include limited face-to-face interaction among passengers because everyone faces the same direction, seatbacks providing physical barriers and little mixing among travelers while seated.
Guidelines for reducing transmission on board
Building on these factors IATA generated a set of recommendations to include layers of safety, both literally and figuratively, that avoid the blocked middle seat requirement while promising appropriate levels of safety. These include:
- Screening passengers via temperature or other quick, contactless methods
- Contactless check-in and baggage processes
- Physical distancing in the airport (but NOT on planes!)
- Enhanced cleaning procedures for aircraft
- Masks or other facial coverings
- Limited passenger interaction and movement on board
IATA hopes that limiting face-to-face interaction as much as possible will be sufficient to limit transmission between passengers. Combined with some screening at airports, the goal is that aircraft will no longer be global couriers of disease, but that they will return to their role delivering economic growth around the world.
Powell explains, “Adding the in-flight measures, including limiting motion in the cabin in flight and simplified catering procedures, would enable us to continue/resume operations” without needing to maintain blocked seats. Among the limited motion measures in cabin, Powell hinted at limited lav queuing, among other things.
Nobody has demonstrated that having the middle seat empty has reduced the chances of transmission of COVID-19 from one passenger to another. And the seat pitch is within the respiratory zone anyways.– Dr. David Powell, IATA Medical Advisor
Many of these measures are relatively easy on short-haul flights. Stretch the trip across several hours or overnight, however, and things like inflight meals become more of a challenge. If everyone is required to wear a mask how can anyone eat or drink? Powell cited examples from crew behavior on flights today as one potential solution, “There are flights currently where cabin crew are wearing masks and what happens if they are eating a meal next to each other. They have to alternate. There will probably need to be some sort of similar control over that in the passenger cabin as well. Ideally you would not have two adjacent passengers uncovered at the same time for obvious reasons.”
Financial or medical motivation??
The briefing also included significant content from IATA Chief Economist Brian Pearce showing that virtually no airline would be able to turn a profit with seats blocked on board.
IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac acknowledges the optics there, but insists that the decision is not financially motivated, “It is clear that [blocking] middle seat has an enormous financial and operational impact on airlines. Additionally, neutralizing the middle seat brings no additional guarantee to avoid transmission. The point is to see whether it is necessary to implement a measure that would significantly damage the economics of the industry and the possibility of passengers to travel in good condition without bringing an additional safety improvement.” And, given the medial guidance by Dr. Powell, IATA is firmly in the camp that blocking the seats does nothing for passenger or crew safety.
That passengers today believe it delivers that benefit may provide a different economic driver for airlines to continue blocking seats. But that would be a financial decision, one counter to IATA’s medical recommendation.
More on COVID-19 and the airlines affected
- Alaska Airlines offers elite bonus earning in face of COVID-19 booking weakness
- Massive cuts, uncertain recovery timelines for aviation in the face of COVID-19
- Qantas cuts international 25% through September facing coronavirus-induced demand drop
- Spirit Airlines plans 5% growth reduction for April as COVID-19 hurts demand
- American Airlines slashes schedule, increases flexibility for customer rebookings
- US to block some European visitors
- Two key takeaways from American’s latest schedule cuts
- Regulators suspend slot rules, opening door to deeper airline cuts
- Beyond route cuts, airlines initiate extended suspension of operations
- Gogo looks to ride out coronavirus-related dip in demand
- Trans States Airlines: The first US airline victim of COVID-19
- JetBlue removes 40% of capacity, delays new deliveries as demand drops
- Airlines get a break on coronavirus EC261 comp, looking for more
- Airport lounges shutter as airlines slash capacity
- Will COVID-19 delay the opening of Berlin Brandenburg Airport?
- Qatar Airways plans 75% capacity cut in response to COVID-19
- Emirates, Turkish Airlines slash route networks, ground aircraft
- JetBlue plans additional draw down in service
- Is it time for US airports to start closing terminals??
- Converting to cargo: Putting passenger planes to use in the COVID-19 era
- IATA anticipates recession, slower recovery, as COVID-19 impact drag on
- US carriers cut frequencies, not destinations as they seek federal funding
- JetBlue plans 70%+ cut in April operations
- Cancelled flights, vouchers and the airline cash flow crunch
- Spirit Airlines reportedly cutting 90% of flights
- US airlines cut deep, but not deep enough
- An eerie quiet over New York City: The flights are gone
- Who wants what? How the US airlines are responding with CARES Act funding on the line
- Delta, United extend elite status by a year, adjust other benefits
- DOT adjusts, finalizes airline route requirements for CARES Act funding.
- Lufthansa announces major, permanent fleet restructuring
- Air Canada, Alaska Airlines extend elite status
- Deeper cuts, reprotect options coming for JetBlue
- Air Canada replaces seats with cargo in 777-300ER cabin
- American Airlines extends status, eases qualification
- A new take on amenity kits in the COVID-19 era
- COVID crushing inflight connectivity: Part 1
- Stuck in the past, DOT botches its CARES Act implementation
- DOT grants exemptions to Delta, Alaska Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines under CARES Act obligations
- Introducing yin-yang seating for economy class
- Inflight social distancing will kill short-haul LCC travel: IATA
- Gogo furloughs 60% of workforce, applies for CARES Act support
- COVID crushing inflight connectivity: Part 2
- De Havilland, Air Canada Cargo partner on Dash 8-400 cargo conversion
- JetBlue plans new route network for CARES Act compliance
- Spirit Airlines running triangle routes to meet CARES Act requirements
- Sun Country wins big as United, Frontier lose in latest CARES Act ruling
- Frontier Airlines pushes new route plan for CARES Act compliance
- Argentina plans to restart flights in September 2020
- Spirit Airlines asks DOT again to drop destinations
- Delta Flight Products, TechOps develop isolation pod for COVID-19 military transport
- JetBlue aims to drop 16 "major hub" destinations from its network
- Allegiant scores leniency from DOT in CARES Act obligations
- Panasonic Avionics implements furloughs to address slowing business
- American, Delta confirm accelerated fleet retirements
- Airbus aims to ease "COVID Combi" temporary freighter conversions
- The Weekly Wrap: FlightPlan, personal screening and more!
- United’s long-haul operations focus on a new "workhorse"
- United plans touchless bag tag kiosks
- Temperature scans in, 767s out for Air Canada, Rouge
- JetBlue, Spirit score exemptions to drop service at major US airports
- IATA recommends against blocked middle seats, favors "layered" protections
- United plans to resume (cargo for now) Hong Kong-Singapore service
- JetBlue suspends six cities through June
- Project Wingman USA Opens Lounges for Frontline Healthcare Heroes at Two Major New York City Hospitals
- Cape Air’s ugly April stats (and some possible good news for May)
- Fighting for the middle: A pandemic seating shift
- Avianca declares bankruptcy, seeks protection in restructuring
- United raises ire in cutting hours for salaried employees
- DOT further relaxes airline CARES Act obligations
- Allegiant sees quick recovery on the horizon
- Delta drops 777 fleet as coronavirus cuts continue
- JetBlue offers free TrueBlue Mosaic status, plus a year extension
- United faces lawsuit over M&A employees pay cut
- Optimism on the horizon: The Weekly Wrap 15 May 2020
- Beached Whale: A380’s future turns more bleak
- TSA implementing lower-touch screening protocols
- Volotea plans for growth into a COVID-affected Summer
- Health passports in our future: The Weekly Wrap
- LATAM seeks US bankruptcy protection, plans to continue operations
- JetBlue plans return of international markets in June