IATA will oppose any government proposals to require airlines
to keep middle seats empty during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft
is low,” the trade group said in a statement. “Mask-wearing by passengers and
crew will reduce the already low risk, while avoiding the dramatic cost
increases to air travel that onboard social distancing measures would bring.”
IATA said an informal survey of medical contacts at 18
airlines (representing 14% of global traffic) revealed just three instances of
suspected passenger-to-crew Covid-19 transmission from January through March,
four instances of pilot-to-pilot transmission and zero passenger-to-passenger
The airline lobby also said that an examination of contact
tracing of 1,100 passengers who were confirmed to have the virus after air
travel revealed no transmission among the more than 100,000 passengers on the
same flights. Two possible cases were found among crew members.
IATA argued that there are several potential reasons that
flying could be safer than other forms of transport. For one, passengers face
forward with limited face-to-face interactions. In addition, seats could
provide a barrier to transmission. Also, air flow rates are high and not
conducive to droplet spread like other indoor environments, IATA said. It added
that high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters on modern aircraft clean
cabin air to hospital quality.
Despite IATA’s assertion, not everyone agrees.
The World Health Organization says infected flyers can
transmit a virus to people within two rows on either side of them.
Meanwhile, a 2003 study in the New England Journal of
Medicine detailed a Hong Kong-Beijing flight during which the authors believe a
lone passenger transmitted the coronavirus SARS to 22 people onboard. The
Washington Post provided a summary of that study in a recent story.
Along with mask requirements, IATA recommended several other
temporary health safety measures, including:
• Temperature screening of passengers, airport workers and
• Boarding and deplaning processes that reduce contact with
other passengers or crew.
• Limiting movement within the cabin during flight.
• More frequent and deeper cabin cleaning.
• Simplified catering procedures that lower crew movement
and interaction with passengers.
The trade group said the average fare for North American
flights in 2019 was $202, which made the average break-even load factor 75%. If
maximum load factors were reduced via a mandate on blocking middle seats,
average tickets prices would have to increase to $289 to reach the break-even
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