As flying starts to ramp up again, I’ve seen a fair few negative comments regarding social distancing onboard.
Initially, the airlines started to block middle seats. Mostly as that was the easiest measure they could undertake in order to entice people back. However, they soon realised that this could potentially cost them money. Pretty quickly, they started going back on that. And people seemed to be pretty annoyed with that.
Let’s be realistic though. The airlines are coming off months of having virtually zero income. So they need to start bringing in as much cash as possible – and as soon as possible. If they can fill every seat on the plane, they will. And this is why people are complaining. If we think about it though, around the world, social distancing is set between 1 and 2 metres. The average width of a plane seat is 18 inches, just under half a metre. So even if the middle seat was left empty, you’d be less than half the recommended distance anyway. Although every little helps I guess.
The chances are, the loads are probably low enough at the moment to not have to worry about the middle seat being occupied anyway. But from the number of emails I’ve received over the past few weeks, the airlines are definitely keen to entice people back on board. So the chances are the planes will be filling up again shortly.
Social Distancing Still Won’t Be An Issue
Even if the plane was completely full, the chances are you’ll still be fine. Virtually every airline and airport out there has mandated the use of a face mask at this point. Thats just the start. Many airports have implemented temperature checks – although off the top of my head, I think they may only be on arrival. Maybe putting them on the entrance door to the terminal would be an idea too? After this, no doubt all airport staff are on the look out for someone who looks a little bit off. At least you’d hope so. Then theres the common sense aspect too. If someone isnt feeling too well in the days leading up to a trip, you’d hope that they would stay at home. Again, this isn’t a fool proof method – it’s possible that you could have the virus without even knowing.
The point I’m trying to make is that in theory, if someone is infected in the airport, you’d like to think that they wouldn’t make it as far as getting on board.
If they do however, all airliners are fitted with HEPA filters that filters out any bacteria and viruses. Despite the old wives tale that aircraft air is stagnant and all it takes is for one person on board to sneeze, the air onboard is filtered every 2-3 minutes.
(For a far more detailed explanation than I can ever provide, see here: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20170005166.pdf)
I know, the whole social distancing issue still comes into effect here. But as I mentioned above, even if the middle seat is left empty, you’ll only be around half the recommended distance away anyway.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, if you’re that concerned at contracting anything, then stay home.
My opinion is that you are just as likely to catch something going to your local supermarket. How many times has someone got just a little bit too close to you when you’re waiting to go in? That pint of milk you have put in your basket – who has grabbed it before you, only to decide they didn’t want it and put it back on the shelf?
In the case of the supermarket, they have a pretty captive audience. People have to eat. If they have been going there for many years, they will continue to visit out of habit. With airlines, they have to try a little harder to entice people. In the eyes of the general public (at least in the UK) the virus came from overseas, so overseas = dangerous. Airlines and tour operators have to try and break that shield people have put up. So they have to be seen to be doing something. Within reason. There are some areas where it simply doesn’t make commercial sense. Social distancing on the plane itself is the key one. However, in the airport, during boarding and virtually any other area where theres a decent amount of space, it shouldn’t be too hard.
Although you’ll always get that one who thinks the rules don’t apply to them…