Empty average seats on an airplane? They won’t last long

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Aside from an upgrade, an empty central seat was the holy grail for economy class passengers. Much coveted, it was monetized because airlines from Aer Lingus to Vietnam Airlines guaranteed an empty headquarters for a fee. There is even software that airlines can license to improve sales of stuck seats.

Now the airlines promise all passengers an empty central seat as flights increase while travelers are mindful of social distance.

But it won’t last long. Alaska Airlines

ALK
only offers empty intermediate seats until May 31.

Failure to sell all mid-size seats challenges the density economy on which travel and tourism are built.

Having only two out of three seats gives a load factor of 67%, less than the 75% profitability according to IATA estimates for airlines. But there are few short-term costs to block the middle seats because most flights are far from complete.

There is little hope that this will continue in the medium term, which would otherwise lead to higher fares due to the loss of seat inventory.

Some airlines are even more dependent on high volumes: the American domestic market has an average load factor of 86% while Ryanair reached a load factor of 97% last summer.

For now, the measure is helping airlines navigate expectations while countries in recovery are weaning people from social distancing.

EasyJet plans to resume flight with empty medium seats. Likewise for another low-budget European carrier, Wizz Air.

“We would essentially block a third of the planes,” Wizz Air CEO Jozsef Varadi told Reuters. “A 180 places would become a 120 places. “Outside Europe, Air New Zealand and Delta Air Lines

DAL
also block the middle seats.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary flouted the notion, calling it “crazy” and “nonsense” in a separate interview with Reuters.

O’Leary pointed to the contradiction of regulators wanting to block medium seats without taking proportionate measures at airports. Not said that even if there is a gap between the passengers, this space is still much less than six feet or so recommended for social distance.

For an industry that relies heavily on regulations and precedents, there is little guidance on how to present air transportation as safe and healthy in a post-COVID world.

The measures introduced after the September 11 terrorist attacks were practical and had the added benefit of visibility: additional security screen, reinforced cockpit doors.

Global airlines were already promoting cleanliness in February when the pandemic was centered on mainland China. As other countries were affected, airlines increased their messaging to counter public perception.

Chinese airlines were quick to note that the air circulation in the cabins was vertical from ceiling to floor and not horizontal from passenger to passenger. HEPA air filters are almost always on airplanes.

Chinese aviation regulator CAAC has informed the height of the pandemic that airlines can only accommodate one passenger for three seats.

As the virus has been brought under control at the national level, the CAAC has focused on imported cases when nationals return home. The CAAC limits international load factors to 75%. This allows for an empty central seat in three out of four rows.

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