Could COVID-19 Kill The Middle Seat?

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COVID-19 is causing airlines to rethink a lot from scheduling to catering to onboard seating. In a new move, Delta Air Lines announced that it will block middle seats to leave a little more room for social distancing. However, with little certainty around when the pandemic will end, it raises the question of whether or not traveling in the middle seat could go away permanently.

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Could COVID-19 lead to the demise of middle seat?. Photo: Simple Flying

The infamous middle seat

Most people are not fans of the middle seat. Economy class is already tight as is and being squished between two people is not much fun. For families, it can offer a chance for people to sit together and enjoy each other’s company. But, for solo travelers, it can be an uncomfortable ride.

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On a long-haul flight, this could be especially uncomfortable. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Not all aircraft have middle seats and some newer planes have fewer middle seats. Delta’s new A220-100s are in a 2-3 configuration meaning one less middle seat per row compared to other narrowbodies like the 737 or A320.

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Delta’s brand new Airbus A220s only have only five seats per row. Photo: Delta Air Lines

Unfortunately, most narrowbody aircraft flying for mainline carriers in the United States and around the world are Airbus A320s or Boeing 737s. Both of those aircraft have a 3-3 configuration in economy, which means middle seats.

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The Airbus A320 is a popular narrowbody. Photo: Getty Images

In terms of long-haul travel on widebodies, most airlines are flying Boeing 787s, 747s, or 777s. While Airbus models include the A350 and A380. All of these aircraft have solo middle seats either in a 3-3-3 or 3-4-3 configuration.

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Some Boeing 777s are in a tight 10-abreast configuration in economy. Photo: Getty Images

Some of the more comfortable aircraft are Boeing 767s and Airbus A330s. The 767s are outfitted in a standard 2-3-2 configuration in economy while the standard A330 configuration is 2-4-2. Only the 767 has one solo middle seat per row while the A330 does not.

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767s are in a comfortable 2-3-2 configuration. Photo: Simple Flying

The middle seat in the post-COVID world

Air travel will change immensely in the post-COVID world. While this is, uncharted territory, airlines are preparing for a slow and steady return to pre-COVID travel. Some, predict that it may not come until 2021.

Regardless, one of the likeliest changes to come in air travel will be health-related. Airlines will likely implement technology that helps determine if a passenger is sick and reduce the spread of a viral illness inflight. Furthermore, airlines will likely continue to keep enhanced cleaning procedures in place.

In an effort to convince wary travelers and reduce infection transmission onboard, airlines will likely maintain some enhanced cleaning procedures. Photo: Delta Air Lines

If demand does remain low, airlines could continue to block out the middle seat. Not only will this ensure that passengers get some personal space, but it costs the airline little if anything to implement if the plane is not going out full anyways.

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Will this become permanent policy?

While the blocked middle seat may come to more airlines and stay for some time, the likelihood of it becoming permanent is incredibly low. Once air travel demand returns to its pre-COVID levels, airlines will definitely seek to sell every seat onboard an aircraft.

But, perhaps, just for a little while, flying in economy could be a bit more comfortable than it used to be.

How long do you think airlines will block the middle seat? Do you think more airlines should implement this policy? Let us know in the comments!

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