Qantas Criticized For Ignoring Social Distancing On Flight

A full Qantas flight on Monday, 13 April, has come under fire for ignoring social distancing protocols. Photos of the domestic service, operating from Townsville to Brisbane, have cropped up on Twitter with at least one passenger unhappy about the lack of personal space.

A passenger has criticized Qantas for not practicing social distancing on a domestic flight on Monday. Photo: Qantas News Room

The New Zealand Herald has flagged the story. According to the Herald, the service was QF755, the 14:45 departure from Townsville. The operating aircraft was a Boeing 737-800.

One flight a week from Townsville results in a full flight

There is now only one air service a week from Townsville, and that is Monday afternoon’s QF755. That may go some way to explaining why the plane was so full. The northern Queensland city of nearly 193,000 is 1,330 kilometers north of Queensland’s capital of Brisbane. You could drive, but the highway isn’t great.

The passenger notes that they were traveling for work. With the substantial military, mining and shipping industries in Townsville, a lot of FIFO workers pass through Townsville’s Airport. It’s likely most of the other passengers were in the same boat.

The flight had also picked up passengers in Cairns before coming to Townsville.

One person responding to the tweet asked why Qantas wasn’t leaving the middle seat free.

Qantas takes health and wellbeing seriously

For its part, Qantas says the health and wellbeing of passengers and staff is its highest priority. The airline has stepped up its routine cleaning. Qantas says;

“Our people are trained with the latest hygiene protocols and our routine process involves cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and fixtures in the cabin, including tray tables, armrests, air vents, controls, seatbelts, entertainment screens, handles and latches.”

What the airline isn’t required to do is leave the middle seat free. When it can, it does. Qantas told the New Zealand Herald that loads on most of its flights were running at about 30%. But as we’ve covered in Simple Flying, passengers in more remote regional cities like Townsville are scrambling to get tickets on scarce flights, meaning they are much fuller.

Airlines like Qantas are stepping up their routine cleaning procedures. Photo: Delta News Hub via Wikimedia Commons.

It is also important to remember that Monday was the tail end of the Easter long weekend.

Qantas has been at pains to point out, as have many other airlines, that the risk of infection while on-board an aircraft is minimal. In a statement, Qantas said;

“There’s been no confirmed cases of transmission of the coronavirus to employees or customers on-board our aircraft, or any aircraft globally for that matter. That includes instances where someone unwittingly traveled on one of our flights while infected with coronavirus, based on our discussions with health authorities.”

Qantas sticks to medical advice rather than social media advice

And while the online complainant said most passengers were not wearing face masks, the local medical advice in Australia does not recommend wearing face masks.

While Qantas cites the medical advice that says coronavirus is not an airborne virus, the airline stresses the efficacy of its aircraft’s air conditioning systems.

“Our aircraft have the highest air quality, with HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters installed in the filtration systems. These devices filter 99.999% of dust particles and airborne contaminants such as viruses and bacteria, ensuring the highest possible quality of cabin air. These are the same type of filters that are used in hospital operating rooms.”

While the passenger posting on Twitter may not be thrilled about traveling on a full aircraft, Qantas is not doing anything wrong (other than not running more flights). The airline says that while concerns are understandable, it takes passenger and crew health very seriously and is committed to exercising every sensible precaution.