Social distancing will harm the airline industry, says IATA

Director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac has called for different measures to be put in place

Alexandre de Juniac
Alexandre de Juniac

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has stated that while it supports the wearing of face masks and gloves abroad flights and in airports, it does not support social distancing measures that would leave the middle seat empty on a craft.

IATA has said that leaving the middle seat free on flights would incur additional costs for airlines, resulting in a price hike for tickets. According to its research, the average fare in the Middle East alone has risen by 43% to US$259 compared to the same point last year. On a global scale, fares would have to jump by between 43% and 54% just to break even amid fewer seats being sold.

“Airlines are fighting for their survival. Eliminating the middle seat will raise costs. If that can be offset that with higher fares, the era of affordable travel will come to an end. On the other hand, if airlines can’t recoup the costs in higher fares, airlines will go bust. Neither is a good option when the world will need strong connectivity to help kick-start the recovery from COVID-19’s economic devastation,” said IATA director general and CEO Alexandre de Juniac.

Instead of social distancing, the Association has suggested alternative measures such as temperature screening, adjusting boarding protocols, adjusted catering procedures and more frequent cleaning.

IATA noted that even with the middle seat empty, it does not provide the recommended amount of separation. Most authorities state people should remain 1m-2m apart, while the average plane seat width is less than 50cm.

“Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low,” said de Juniac “We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit.”

As the number of COVID-19 cases surpasses three million, IATA’s CEO said the long-term solution for the industry is medical science. Quite simply he said “We need a vaccine.” De Juniac also suggested a potential immunity passport for passengers or larger-scale method of testing for the virus.

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