Social Distancing Not A Long Term Option For Emirates’ President

The president of Emirates said at a webinar yesterday that social distancing on aircraft makes no sense from an economic or environmental point of view. Sir Tim Clark believes that leaving seats empty on flights is a pointless exercise.

Emirates A380
Social distancing on flights is not an option, says Emirates’ president. Photo: Getty Images

There’s no point in leaving seats empty

As reported by, Emirates’ president, Sir Tim Clark, was speaking at a live webinar session arranged by the Arabian Travel Market (ATM). In a conversation with John Strickland, Director of JLS Consulting, Sir Tim stated that if airlines begin to leave economy seats empty or unsold, they would have to be consistent about it. He said,

“There’s no point in leaving the seat next to you empty because the seat behind you, if somebody sneezes or coughs, irrespective of the seatback, meant to be deflecting it, this will not happen. These will travel 20 feet down the cabin and into the air.”

Sir Tim says that, in the case of economy class, taking out 50% of your inventory doesn’t stack up for anybody. Also, with everyone being very conscious of environmental issues, flying empty or half-empty aircraft makes no sense.

Emirates cabin
Emirates provides passengers with a safety kit on board. Photo: Emirates

Emirates implements safety measures

As airlines emerge from the crisis and return to the skies, they are implementing new policies to protect passengers and crew from the transmission of the coronavirus. A priority is to increase customer confidence in the ailing aviation industry.

While some airlines have introduced social distancing on flights by leaving empty seats, Emirates has put other safety measures in place. When boarding, passengers are given their own coronavirus kit. It includes face masks and gloves, along with sanitizers that allow them to clean their seating area before they sit down.

Sir Tim says that these measures give passengers a degree of personal control.

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Emirates was forced to entirely ground its fleet for two weeks. Photo: Getty Images

Some return to normality by 2021

In yesterday’s webinar, Sir Tim said that, as long as the trauma of the COVID-19 crisis doesn’t go on for too long, the global economy is sufficiently resilient to take it. By accepting adjustments to the ways we go about our lives, business, and travel, some kind of normality will be restored during 2021. He added,

“Planning for resumption is quite complicated, needless to say, we have a 24/7 watch on it as countries start to relax their access requirements, but I see some difficulties as I don’t believe they will open at the pace we would like.”

He is concerned that there will be a bubble effect, as we are already seeing, with countries allowing services with other nations that are relatively free of COVID-19. It’s still very early days as we wait for a better understanding of flight protocols, quarantine restrictions, and airport procedures.

The UAE suspended all commercial air traffic in March, which grounded the Emirates fleet. The president of Emirates feels that it could take up to four years for the airline to get back to operating all of its services at pre-coronavirus levels.

Do you think social distancing works on aircraft? Also, would it benefit passengers for all airlines to have the same safety measures? Leave your comments below.