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Social distancing and air travel don’t go together very well.
Even though airplanes have hospital-grade HEPA filtering systems, it’s still very difficult to maintain a safe distance from other passengers when flying, unless of course you are flying something like the first class Etihad Apartment.
So many airlines are taking steps to encourage social distancing.
In fact, some airlines are even temporarily banning seat assignments to the middle seat — something that many passengers are thankful for.
Delta, Alaska, and Spirit are some of the domestic airlines that have temporarily banned the middle seat but other airlines are implementing modified seat assignments as well.
For example, American Airlines is now blocking off half of its middle seats and is monitoring its flights to maintain social distance in between passengers.
Also, JetBlue is not assigning passengers to almost 1/3 of it seats. They’ve also relaxed their seating policy and are proactively assigning seats in order to maintain a proper distance between passengers that are not traveling together.
If you are traveling as a family or unit, you normally should be able to still sit together.
I think more distance is always better than less distance when trying to battle the spread of the virus but even having passengers sit with one empty seat between them still keeps people within the 6 foot zone of potential spread.
So I wonder how effective blocking the middle seats actually is?
Luckily, these protective measures are on top of others that are being put into place.
Most importantly, some airlines are taking extra efforts to sanitize the aircraft between flights. But other measures include fewer food and drink services being offered, more distance between flight attendants and passengers, protective gear being worn by crew, and new boarding procedures.
Passenger volume is down by as much as 97% right now which is pretty insane. But those numbers should make social distancing on planes very practical right now.
But as states start to move into phase 1 of the opening up process in the US, nonessential travel will be allowed (it would just need to be “minimized”).
So it will be very interesting to see what type of measures continue during phase 1. I believe many of these policies are scheduled to go until the end of May but as more people are willing to fly, middle seats will have to be opened back up.
Smaller regional routes require capacity at around 80% to be profitable so I’m sure that these type of policies will be pulled back at that time.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.