- Airlines are unlikely to block the middle seats despite a new recommendation from the CDC.
- Mask-wearing policies and high-efficiency particulate air filters have dramatically reduced outbreaks on board.
- Airlines have also started selling summer flights based on flights sold at full capacity.
- See more stories on the Insider business page.
Airlines are not convinced by the recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that blocking the middle seats will reduce the spread of the new coronavirus any better, more than they are doing now.
All the major US airlines, confident in measures such as wearing a mask and using special high-efficiency air filters, or HEPA filters, are moving away from the practice with no sign of returning to it as others have never adopted it and are unlikely. at. Delta Air Lines is the last to be held and its policy is expected to end on May 1.
But the reasoning goes far beyond the desire of airlines to make a profit by filling planes.
“Numerous scientific studies confirm that protective layers significantly reduce risk, and research continues to show that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is very low,” Airlines for America, the trade organization representing many major airlines countries, including Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines, said in a statement to Insider.
Airlines are already following a fine line to avoid an outbreak on board while trying to get the flyers back. If an outbreak were to strike, the industry could return to where it was in March 2020 with massive cancellations and billions of dollars lost.
Masks have been required on commercial airline flights for nearly a year now and any major outbreaks would have been well noted and investigated. The 2017 study also does not take into account actions taken by airlines, according to an industry expert.
“This is data dating back several months that overlooks many of the changes in real-world policies and practices that the airline industry has implemented since the first study,” said Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group. of the just released CDC report. Researchers performed the tests in a lab using mannequins who weren’t wearing face masks.
More recent studies from the US Department of Defense and the Harvard School of Public Health have better simulated pandemic conditions using real planes – the DOD has partnered with United Airlines and used commercial planes, for example – and by hiding the mannequins.
Harteveldt noted that every stud is probably not perfect, as the Harvard study was funded by industry. And while the DOD study is more reliable, it only used widebody aircraft for its testing, a factor that Harteveldt says is not a major issue, given that the filtration systems are comparable. on narrow-body airplanes.
Going back to the days of blocking middle seats would also wreak havoc on airlines that began selling full-capacity airline tickets for the summer.
“If you were to say to a passenger now, ‘Oh, we have to book your vacation because we’re blocking the middle seats,’ I think you’d have a lot of upset travelers,” Harteveldt said, noting that the airlines would like a compensation. of government if it became law.
Travelers have repeatedly indicated that they are ready to travel with any airline if the price is right, regardless of the number of seats. American Airlines and United Airlines had no problem filling some flights during the first summer of the pandemic when flights were sold at full capacity, as Insider found on several flights in June 2020.
“Consumers went where they could get the flights and the fares they could afford,” Harteveldt said. “And that was before vaccines were available and before wearing a mask was a federal mandate.”
Delta Air Lines is set to end its mid-seat block on May 1, when none of the top 11 U.S. airlines will offer the policy. Airlines aren’t alone either, as Amtrak and Megabus have also announced the final end of their seat-blocking policies.
Read more: Airline workers have lower COVID-19 rates than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof flying is safe
Crowded flights are back and here to stay.