The future of middle seats on planes is at stake in the post-Coronavirus world of air travel. Middle Seats – the not so beloved of flyers – are rather a pet hate even on the cheapest economy flights. Much to the pleasure of travelers, middle seats may remain unfilled for some time once flights are resumed to India and other destinations, as some airlines are not booking middle seats considering it a need of the hour for social distancing on board.
While the booking of middle seats is temporarily suspended for Alaska and Delta Airlines flights, American Airlines and JetBlue are blocking off nearly 50% of their total middle seats. Reportedly, Air India is supposed to operate flights keeping a seat vacant between every two passengers. Though it is financially not viable for most airlines, making passengers feel safe and reviving their confidence in booking international flights is a topmost priority in the post-Coronavirus world of air travel.
The anticipated financial impact of not selling middle seats on planes has put forth a question, “Will cheap economy flight tickets be available in the post-Coronavirus world of aviation?” Either the traveler will have to shell out extra bucks for flights with no middle seats assigned to them or airlines will have to incur the losses of flying with vacant middle seats. However, just like the proverb, “Something is better than nothing,” flights with some passengers and no middle seats are better than flights with middle seats and no passengers.
Recently, Qantas Airlines officially announced to join the no-middles club and continue operating flights with low occupancy unless the COVID19 pandemic hits rock bottom.
However, empty middle seats on planes do not ensure 6 feet of social distancing that public health officials strictly recommend to contain the transmission of tiny respiratory droplets released during coughing, sneezing and exhaling. Doing more than leaving not-so-appealing middle seats unoccupied to spread out passengers at six fee of social distancing between each other will be not only challenging but also financially damaging for airlines, according to the CEO of International Air Transport Association (IATA).
There is always a middle-of-the-road solution. With new cabin designs having emerged for economy class flights in the post-COVID19 era, neither do airlines need to block off middle seats, nor do travelers have to pay more for flights with empty middle seats.
Aviointeriors, an Italian firm, has unveiled two economy travel cabin designs, one of which projects middle seats facing opposite aisle seats and window seats. All three passengers seated next to each other in every row have their space isolated and shielded with a hygienic plastic screen, either opaque or transparent, on three sides – which leaves no room for physical contact. The screen will also not let people walking through the aisle come in contact with those occupying aisle seats.
The other cabin design ‘Glassafe’, for safe air travel in the post-COVID19 world, can easily be installed on existing layouts of economy seats. It will not only isolate passengers from each other sitting in close proximity, but also cover the top of their seats. Both the designs are aesthetically conceptualized for aircraft cabins and primarily aimed at preventing transmission of any virus in the air of a confined setting, according to Aviointeriors.
“The future of air travel is being redefined in the aftermath of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing being the first and foremost need of safe travel in high density aircraft cabins is an offset to the present-day claustrophobic experience of economy flights with reduced seat pitch, width, recline and legroom. In the post-COVID19 world of air travel, the current model of regular economy cabins with space crunch should be reversed to help passengers abstain from getting into a tiff over reclined seats on board,” said the chief aviation market analyst of Indian Eagle, a leading international air-ticketing agency.