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Airlines & Social Distancing, Here Is What To Expect...

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

With 4.5 billion passengers and over 45 million flights worldwide recorded by the ICAO in 2018, air travel is undoubtedly an essential part of our modern life. Yet as much as flying is essential to the continuity of our international trade and the overall sustainability of our global market, the coronavirus outbreak triggered an entire crisis for the industry as it stopped most passenger flights. To this day, flying activities across the globe remain very limited until we solve one major problem which is: "How to adapt the social distancing measures on board of passenger aircraft?" Indeed, for the past months, the aviation industry has been consolidating its efforts to come up with solutions that would help to minimize the risk of contamination on board of passenger aircrafts, while at the same time following the world health organization call for social distancing. We at ECHO have been screening the web to share with you the aviation industry’s updates regarding their fight against COVID-19:

The Era Of The Middle-Seat Might Be Over:

With the surge of the coronavirus health crisis, the IATA reported that the number of flights around the world drastically plummeted by 70%. Moreover, the load factor of airlines also dropped to an all-time low. Indeed according to Forbes,  American  Airlines, one of the largest in the United States, has been flying with a load factor less than 50%. With all the empty space in their cabins airlines such as Delta, agreed to block their middle seats to limit the direct contact between passengers. In an emailed statement to CBC News, United Airlines explained that they too started limiting seat selection for adjacent seats in all of their cabins. Other airlines like WestJet announced they will be selling fewer seats on board of their aircrafts including middle seats. As a downfall of this decision, during their weekly briefing, Brian Pearce, IATA's chief economist said that load factors on short-haul flights wouldn’t go beyond 66%  if this situation persists and airlines continue sacrificing their middle seats.

More Space For Less Money:

To compensate the losses incurred due to flying almost empty aircrafts, some airlines are giving the passengers the choice to book empty seats around them at a lesser fee. The "One Airline" passengers can buy up to 8 seats for an additional $228 or buy just one or two extra seats at a cost of $28 per seat. Other airlines such as Air Changan limit this service to local flights and the booking process can only be done on-site before boarding. This service is a major change in the aviation industry as for the first time the passenger is offered options regarding how much space he can have in the cabin.

Hybrid Flights, A Mix Of Cargo And Passenger:

With the decrease in passenger flights comes a sudden surplus in the cargo fares. Indeed cargo rates have risen over 10% in recent weeks as some companies are prepared to pay more to ship goods after drastic cuts in passenger flights left airlines with less capacity for cargo. Many Airlines decided to use this cargo surplus as a lifeline to survive the next months and have been operating cargo-only flights in their empty passenger aicrafts such as Southwest Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines and Etihad Airways. As per airlines who still want to fly passenger but at the same time need the monetary boost from transporting cargo, solutions have already been established to start converting passenger seats into stowage units and operate hybrid “Passenger-Cargo” flights

The implementation of social distancing measures on board of passenger airlines remains a big challenge as other factors are involved, including the ratio of passenger per restrooms, the sanitizer dispensers, the different cabin dividers and most importantly the air conditioning system. Some airlines simply refuse to fly with such low load factors dictated by social distancing, including Raynair who’s CEO issued a public statement saying they won’t fly if middle seats are to be blocked as he finds these social distancing measures “idiotic”. 

Amid all this situation, the role of the passenger remains crucial, by raising awareness and adopting new flying etiquette such as wearing a face mask or avoiding the line up for the washrooms and during boarding. One thing is for sure our flying habits might never be the same again…

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