IATA Suggests Scrapping Social Distancing For Face Masks

The International Air Transport Association has today publically opposed social distancing. The Geneva-based organization has instead recommended that passengers and crew wear face coverings for the duration of a flight.

IATA, Social Distancing, Face Masks
IATA has slammed social distancing onboard aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Half a year ago, you wouldn’t have guessed it would be a hot topic, yet here we are. Face masks and social distancing have become a hot topic for many with interest in the aviation industry.

In the immediate response to the crisis at hand, many airlines began to block middle seats between economy passengers. However, Lufthansa recently broke the trend by scrapping social distancing in favor of facial coverings.

What has IATA said?

IATA today issued a press release one the whole subject of managing virus transmission onboard aircraft. The group said that blocking middle seats on the plane is not necessary, saying:

IATA does not recommend restricting the use of the ‘middle seat’ to create social distancing while onboard aircraft.

Leaving a middle seat free between passengers makes no sense from a logical point of view. Typically countries are recommending that people stay up to two meters apart. Blocking a single seat does not allow this. The group cites evidence that suggests that, without any special measures, the risk of coronavirus spreading through an aircraft is limited. Reasons include:

  • Air flows from the ceiling to the floor on board aircraft;
  • Most passengers facing forward, not each other;
  • Seating provides a physical barrier between passengers.
Southwest Airlines, Gary Kelly, Flying is Safe
IATA is recommending that all those on board an aircraft wear some face cover. Photo: Southwest

What does the IATA suggest?

Instead of suggesting that passengers are physically separated, the IATA has called for a raft of alternative measures. The primary step involves aircrew wearing face masks, and all passengers wearing face coverings. Indeed, some airlines are already beginning to roll out new PPE focused uniforms for staff.

Also, the association called for opportunities for the virus to spread to be reduced. It suggested simplifying catering procedures, and reworking procedures for boarding and deplaning, in addition to lowering cabin movements. Finally, IATA suggests that most people related to a specific flight are temperature screened.

Why are these measures necessary?

We’ve already seen that the Lufthansa Group has scrapped social distancing on flights in favor of face coverings. Given the potential impact of blocking out a third of the seats on an aircraft has, this is unsurprising.

Lufthansa has already scrapped social distancing for face masks. Photo: Getty Images

According to IATA’s data, across the industry, an average load factor of 77% is required for carriers to break even on a flight. However, to implement social distancing, load factors would need to be brought down to a maximum of 62%.

To offset the loss in revenue, the average fare would need to increase by between 43% and 54%, depending on the region. The Asia Pacific region would be the worst-hit in terms of increase, with the average fare rising by 54%. However, the average ticket price in North America would increase from $202 to $289.

It is no wonder that Michael O’Leary says that Ryanair won’t operate if social distancing is enforced.

What do you think? Should airlines enforce social distancing? Let us know in the comments below!