A Full Airbus A318 Causes Social Distancing Controversy For Air France

Air France has come under fire this weekend for operating a full Airbus A318 flight from Paris to Marseilles. The airline is accused of effectively ignoring social distancing recommendations and potentially putting passengers at risk.

Air France is the biggest operator of the Airbus A318. Photo: Getty Images

What are the details?

Air France has been operating a short route once a day (with an even shorter baby bus Airbus A318) between Paris and Marseilles. This one hour and 15-minute flight as not been full in recent weeks thanks to the crisis, with some reporting a load factor well below 50%.

This was until last Sunday, when it appears that every single seat was sold out!

As reported by Aviation24, the airline flight crew did not notice anything amiss until all the passengers arrived at Charles de Gaulle. Passengers queued up with 1.5 meters distance apart, but then upon entering, the plane became confused and panicked that they all had to sit together in the typical 3-3 configuration, with no seats put aside for social distancing.

On the Paris-Marseilles I took, all the passengers were stunned to see that the flight was complete and no separation measures were taken for the passengers. What is disturbing is that during the whole registration and boarding process at Roissy Charles de Gaulle Airport, the distances were respected.” Spoke France 2 (TV network) journalist Charlotte Gillard as reported by Aviation24.

“But as soon as we got on the plane, we were told that the flight is full! We were all taken aback, seated, huddled next to each other, most passengers without masks, and our face 30 centimeters from that of our neighbor!

The above tweet has been translated:

In the flight @AirFranceFR  Paris-Marseille this morning. After waiting in line respecting social distancing, the passengers find themselves seated side by side. 🧐 The flight is full. Owned: no certificate check to verify the reasons for travel.

Plus, it was reported that the airline did not check why passengers were traveling nor where they had come from (be it a high-risk area of the virus). It is unknown if newly arrived international travelers were allowed to board the domestic flight.

What has the airline said regarding this incident?

Typically, where flights have been full, airlines have been booking out the middle seat. This means that passengers will not be forced to sit together. Air France has commented that they usually do provide a buffer between passengers, but it is not always possible.

“All measures are taken in order to minimise interactions and contacts between passengers during flights” – Air France statement to France 2

The airline went on to say that the air on board the aircraft is renewed every three minutes by hospital-grade filters and that passengers were provided with hand gel.

Air France Airbus A318
Air France is focusing on flights to Algiers and Oran. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Flickr

Why did Air France deploy such a small aircraft?

Another strange choice was the use of an Airbus A318 on this route. If the airline knew that they had so many passengers booked for the flight, why didn’t they swap in a bigger aircraft like the Airbus A320?

Particularly bizarre when you consider that Air France has plenty of aircraft parked Charles de Gaulle that they could have swapped in this aircraft’s place. This would have made all the difference.

What do you think? Did Air France do the right thing? Let us know in the comments.