Indian Airlines Are Selling Empty Social Distancing Seats

Nearly all private Indian carriers are now selling the middle seat to passengers for varying costs. This paid social distancing could prove popular for both airlines and passengers, providing safety and a revenue increase. Could this phenomenon also continue into the future?

Airlines in India
Airlines are offering passengers the opportunity to book an extra seat or even row in some cases. Photo: Getty Images

As the number of passengers flying in India continues to grow, now over 75,000 daily after a slight plateau, airlines are looking to make the experience safer. Currently, airlines can book flights to capacity and have to provide middle seat passengers with PPE, but do not need to enforce social distancing.

However, considering India’s high case count, many traveling would like the extra comfort of having the seat next to them free. Airlines, taking advantage of lower load factors, are selling middle seats at a lower price, allowing passengers some social distancing onboard. IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir, and Vistara are all now selling middle seats to passengers.

Vistara A321neo Economy Product
Passengers will have the choice to purchase the middle seat at a lower price. Photo: Vistara

The idea of paid social distancing is not new; low-cost airlines have implemented similar versions. The notable absences in India are Air India and AirAsia India, neither of whom are offering extra seats.

Varying costs

The price of a middle seat varies across all airlines and is tied to the ticket price. GoAir offers the cheapest middle seats at around 45-50% extra over the ticket price. However, there’s a catch, GoAir only offers blocked seats in the first two rows, meaning availability could be limited.

IndiGo, with its DoubleSeat program, is offering middle seats for around 70% of the ticket prices. These are available across all seats on the flight, removing any potential capacity limits, and the extra seat can even be used to carry fragile items such as a guitar or artifacts (subject to cabin baggage rules).

Indian Airlines
SpiceJet is offering the most flexibility, allowing passengers to book an entire row. Photo: Getty Images

SpiceJet offers the most flexibility with social distancing, allowing you to book one extra seat or the entire row. One extra seat costs half of the ticket price, while the full row will double the price, approximately. Those who want even more space can call SpiceJet to book out more rows. For double the fare, passengers can enjoy a full row to themselves, a great deal if you’re uncomfortable with flying right now.

Vistara was the first airline to introduce the option to book a middle seat, offering the seat at 100% of the ticket price. This makes Vistara’s option the priciest among the competition (SpiceJet will give you a full row for the same price).

Could this idea continue?

Having the middle seat is a great one for anyone who doesn’t like to be crammed into a middle seat and is willing to pay more. However, it is very doubtful that airlines would continue this option once demand bounces back.

The reason for not blocking the middle seat is simple; airlines will lose ancillary revenue. Every individual ticket sold nets airline extras such as convenience fees, meals, seat charges, extra baggage, and more. Airlines stand to make more money selling two individual seats than selling two seats to one person.

Blocked middle seat
Airlines will likely stop blocking or selling middle seats once demand bounces back. Photo: Getty Images

For now, both airlines and passengers are more than happy to book extra seats to keep themselves safe during this crisis. But don’t expect this to become a regular feature post-pandemic.

Should all airlines sell or block middle seats? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!