Social distancing on flights ‘makes absolutely no sense’ says Emirates chief

Sir Tim Clark echoes warnings from IATA that social distancing will harm the industry

Sir Tim Clark
Sir Tim Clark

Though social distancing has become the norm on all passenger flights, Emirates Airline president Sir Tim Clark has said the move doesn’t make economic or environmental sense.

Like most of the world’s airlines, Dubai’s Emirates has been deploying a range of measures and protocols to spur travel and reassure guests. Clark however echoes warnings recently made by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that social distancing is no good.

Speaking at a webinar session organised by Arabian Travel Market (ATM), he said: “If we start leaving seats in the economy inventory open or unsold because of social distancing, one has to accept that you have to be consistent about this. There’s no point in leaving the seat next to you empty because the seat behind you, if somebody sneezes of coughs, irrespective of the seat back, meant to be deflecting it, this will not happen. These will travel 20 feet down the cabin and into the air.”

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“What it basically means is that you will have to take 50%, in the case of economy, of your inventory out. It doesn’t stack up for anybody to do that.”
He added: “Equally, on the environmental side, it makes absolutely no sense to fly empty aircraft or half-empty aircraft, because we’re all very conscious of this.”

IATA stated in early May that social distancing, such as leaving the middle seat empty on a craft, does only harm to the industry. Doing so incurs additional costs for carriers and bumps up fare prices. In the Middle East alone, fares hiked by 43% to US$259 in May 2020 compared to the same point last year.

“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.

Emirates has deployed personal safety kits for passengers containing masks, gloves and sanitisers.

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