COVID-19: Airlines flout regulators’ safety measures, unblock middle seats onboard

*Regulatory agency states that passengers on opposite ends of a three-seat row on a flight with the middle open cut their risk of exposure by 57 percent, but an industry trade group is citing studies showing air travel is safe regardless of physical distancing

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

Extremely eager to get back to pre-pandemic levels of operations, leading airlines are rejecting the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stance on keeping middle seats on airplanes vacant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to consumers onboard.

ConsumerConnect gathered the CDC Wednesday, April 14, 2021, released a report referencing a lab-based study which found that blocking middle seats on planes would lead to a 23% to 57% reduction in flight passengers being exposed to the deadly virus.

The regulator in the study noted that passengers on opposite ends of a three-seat row with the middle open cut their risk of exposure by 57%.

However, despite these findings in respect of safety of the consumers on flights, several airlines eager to get back to pre-pandemic levels of operations appear to be sticking to their original plans for unblocking middle seats, report noted.

Such airlines include American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Southwest Airlines have all announced plans to unblock middle seats.

Subsequently, the aviation firms referred media outlets to industry trade group, Airlines for America, for additional information on the matter.

The group confirmed that no changes would be recommended to airlines because several large studies have concluded that the risk of onboard transmission is low.

Spokesperson of Airlines for America stated: “Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low.”

It was learnt, however, that other precautions are still in place as more airlines started opening those seats back up after evidence started rolling in that air travel was safer than previously thought.

Studies from the Department of Defence and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health both indicated that wearing masks and having air-filtration systems in place were enough to drastically reduce the possibility of catching COVID-19 while flying.

Earlier this week, Delta became the last major airline to announce that it would soon be unblocking the middle seats on all of its flights, agency report stated.

Alaska Airlines also said it would block the middle seat in Premium Economy through May 31 this year.

United Airlines never introduced a policy of keeping the middle seat empty, saying there was no health reason to do so. It characterised middle seat blocking as a “publicity stunt.”

As airlines are opening up middle seats again, they are continuing to implement precautions like enhanced cleaning procedures and requirements like mask-wearing in order to keep air travellers safe during the pandemic.

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