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Leaving middle seats empty on flights would drive up costs without meeting social distancing

Posted by Warwick Business School at 16 June 2020, 22:29 CET |
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Expert comment from Professor Loizos Heraacleous, an aviation industry expert at Warwick Business School

EasyJet boss Johann Lundgren says he would feel 100 per cent confident flying on full planes as middle seats will not be left empty.

If governments require social distance distancing on planes by keeping middle seats empty, this would further reduce plane capacity and lead to an increase in ticket prices.

"According to IATA price increases would be up to 54%, just for airlines to break even. The current break-even load factor for airlines is 77%.

"Keeping middle seats empty would imply a maximum capacity of 62%, necessitating very substantial price increases. Such price increases would serve to suppress demand for air travel, at a time when aviation needs to rebound so it can assist the return to health of the broader economy.

"A further consideration is that even with the middle seat empty, social distancing of even one metre away would not be achieved, in any direction.

"Other measures would more important to reduce transmission rates on planes, such as pre-board temperature screening, use of face coverings, thorough cleaning of planes, high levels of air flow and replenishment during flights, and racked up HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filtering."

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