December 6, 2023

IATA: ‘leaving seats free is not viable’

By Bev Fearis, published 7/05/20

The International Air Transport Association is backing the wearing of face masks on flights but says social distancing on board is not a viable solution.

It said leaving middle seats free would not provide the recommended separation for effective social distancing.

In addition, the measure would slash the maximum load factor to 62%, well below the average industry breakeven load factor of 77%.

With fewer seats to sell, IATA warned unit costs would rise sharply and airfares would need to go up dramatically on 2019 levels – between 43% and 54% depending on the region – just to break even.

“Airlines are fighting for their survival,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “Eliminating the middle seat will raise costs. If that can be offset with higher fares, the era of affordable travel will come to an end. On the other hand, if airlines can’t recoup the costs in higher fares, airlines will go bust. Neither is a good option when the world will need strong connectivity to help kick-start the recovery from COVID-19’s economic devastation.”

Instead, the airline body said masks should be made mandatory on a temporary basis when people start flying again when COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted.

IATA is also supporting temperature screening of passengers and airport workers, changes in the boarding and disembarkation processes to reduce contact, and limiting movement within the cabin during flights.

It said airlines should implement more frequent and deeper cabin cleaning and simplify in-flight meals and refreshments to limit crew interaction with passengers.

The airline body also backed the idea of testing for COVID-19 or immunity passports ‘when proven and available at scale’ as temporary biosecurity measures.

“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount. The aviation industry is working with governments to re-start flying when this can be done safely,” said de Juniac.

“Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low. And we will take measures – such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew – to add extra layers of protection. We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit.”