During the start of the pandemic, airlines left the middle seats vacant to promote social distancing. But after more than 12 months, airlines started offering their middle seats again. Last Saturday, Delta was the last US airline to offer their middle seats.
Delta CEO Ed Bastian announced their plan last March that middle seats are going to be available again by May 1. Their reason is that majority of their passengers have taken at least one dose of the vaccine. However, passengers are still required to wear masks.
Though the mask mandate has been extended, there are hints that airlines are bringing back some of the pre-pandemic practices. This includes the resumption of in-flight meals that will get the person to remove his or her mask.
In a statement released by Bastain, “our customers have always been the voices that guide us at Delta”. He added that “we transformed our service to ensure their health, safety, convenience, and comfort during their travels”.
Controversy Lifting Middle Seats
By now, it has been established that social distancing and wearing masks help prevent COVID19 infection. However, two important studies should be considered. One is from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while the other is an airline-backed study.
In a study by the CDC, empty middle seats decrease exposure by 23 to 57 percent. On the other hand, Harvard researchers claim that flying is safer than going to a grocery. Airlines claim that airplanes have filters that can mitigate the risk of traveling by air.
Is it a good move to be lifting middle seats? A flight last month coming from New Delhi to Hong Kong infected 47 out of 188 passengers. However, domestic flights are different from long-haul flights. Your time of exposure significantly increases your risk of catching COVID19. And since US airlines are focusing on domestic flights, there is a chance that it isn’t likely to happen in the US.
Booking middle seats is a strategy to meet the current travel demand. A reason for this travel demand uptick in the US is the number of people that have been vaccinated. The US is likely to hit a 60% vaccination rate by May or June.