Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Why airlines in India are against keeping middle seats in flights vacant

Airlines in India have come together on an issue, that seems to have otherwise divided the industry globally. It's about keeping middle seats in flights vacant, to maintain social distancing among passengers.

EasyJet, the British low-cost airline is fine with it. But the CEO of its Irish peer Ryanair termed the proposal 'idiotic.' In the US, while United Airlines again is receptive of the idea, local peer American Airlines thinks otherwise.

So what is it about the idea, that has evoked such sharp responses?
As airlines and airports prepare to resume operations, once the lockdown is lifted and the government gives the green signal, they have put in elaborate guidelines to ensure the safety of passengers.

One such rule is to maintain social distancing, at the terminals, buses that ferry passengers and flights. Well, the flight part is a question mark now.

India's industry regulator DGCA has proposed that airlines keep the middle seat empty. But DGCA is not alone. Regulators in Thailand, China and other countries have done the same.
Michael O'Leary, the CEO, said the airline can't afford to keep the middle seats empty. The move, he said, neither ensures social distancing nor is it viable for an airline.

If the Irish government does impose it, O'Leary warned, the airline will not fly, unless the administration pays for the loss.

Interestingly, EasyJet's Chief Executive Johan Lundgren said it will help the airline attract passengers, especially for a short period as flying resumes.

One may agree with the view, especially after going through this nervous account of flying a long haul flight that was full.
Those against the idea including Indian carriers such as SpiceJet said keeping the middle seat vacant is not enough to ensure social distancing.

They reasoned the argument by factoring in the width of an average aircraft seat (about 45cm in Airbus 320 aircraft), which is clearly not enough to have a gap of 2 meters. Even if one were to maintain a distance of 1.5 meters - the gap that airports in India have proposed to maintain - it would probably mean that airlines can have only two seats occupied across a row of six seats, including the aisle.

But this hasn't prevented United Airlines to ensure social distancing inside a flight. The airline said customers won't be able to select seats next to each other.
28/04/20 Prince Mathews Thomas/Moneycontrol.com
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