Both Qantas and Virgin Australia say they will step up social distancing measures onboard their flights after a photo of a completely full Qantas flight went viral. The two Australian airlines will start blocking the middle seat across their route network to give passengers more space in order to better comply with government guidelines designed to reduce the risk of passing on the COVID-19 virus.
The decision follows similar decisions taken by a number of other airlines including the European airlines easyJet, Wizz Air and Lufthansa, as well as U.S.-based carriers Delta and American. Air New Zealand was the first to enforce social distancing measures on its flights by blocking the middle seat.
But Qantas appears to only have taken the decision after a photo of a completely full flight between Brisbane and the Queensland city of Townsville went viral. Under current lockdown restrictions imposed by the Australian government, only essential travel is permitted but Qantas has slashed its domestic network by more than 60 per cent.
A recent deal between Qantas and the federal government will see the number of domestic flights operated by the airline increase by over 50 per cent but it looks like that came too late for passengers onboard the two hour flight from Brisbane last week.
Qantas maintains that the “risk of inflight transmission is low” and that “there’s been no confirmed cases of transmission of the Coronavirus to employees or customers on board our aircraft.” A spokesperson for the airline also said that the “configuration of the cabin seems to also help reduce the risk” but confirmed that social distancing measures would now be implemented.
Blocking the middle seat, though, might lead to airfares soaring in price by as much as 50 per cent. Many airlines need to see between 75 to 80 per cent of available seats to break even on a flight but blocking the middle seat will mean a maximum load factor of around 66 per cent.
At the moment, airfares are low as airlines try to stimulate demand for when lockdown measures and travel restrictions are lifted. Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary also thinks that a price war will keep fares low for at least the next year as carriers try to encourage passengers back to flying in the post-COVID world.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.