Mateusz Maszczynski is a serving international flight attendant with experience…
A new study from researchers at the University of West Florida has concluded that the decision by many airlines to start boarding planes from back-to-front at the start of the pandemic in order to protect passengers actually increases the risk of infection by as much as 50 per cent.
The research, which was funded by the National Science Foundation and published by the Royal Society Open Science journal, found that back-to-front boarding increased the number of passengers clustering in a small area while waiting to stow their baggage and take their seats.
The computer modelling and simulations build on previous work carried out by the researchers on the risk of Ebola infection spread in an airplane environment. The researchers also concluded that blocking middle seats could substantially reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 or other infectious diseases.
“Our results show that back-to-front boarding roughly doubles the infection exposure compared with random boarding,” the researchers wrote. “It also increases exposure by around 50% compared to a typical boarding process prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.”
A slew of airlines, including jetBlue, United Airlines and Southwest have already abandoned their pandemic-era boarding policies in favor of group boarding which is more random and could result in passengers passing each other in the aisle and rubbing against passengers who are already seated.
But in reality, the researchers claim back-to-front boarding does little to enhance social distancing and results in a net impact on increased exposure risk by around 100 per cent compared to random boarding.
Delta Air Lines remains one of the last U.S.-based carriers to still enforce back-to-front boarding but this is due to end on May 1 when the airline also lifts its capacity caps and starts filling middle seats. Delta also says it will remove some social distancing markers as its gears up for a busy summer season.
If airlines were really interested in reducing the risk of exposure to infectious diseases, this latest research finds that banning the use of overhead lockers could dramatically reduce exposure – an idea touted at the start of the pandemic but quickly rejected by the aviation industry.
The study also found that boarding window seat passengers first, before aisle seat passengers could help significantly reduce exposure risk. Airlines have previously experimented with this boarding process but it has never worked in real life.
Photo Credit: United Airlines
Mateusz Maszczynski is a serving international flight attendant with experience at a major Middle East and European airline. Mateusz is passionate about the aviation industry and helping aspiring flight attendants achieve their dreams. Cabin crew recruitment can be tough, ultra-competitive and just a little bit confusing - Mateusz has been there and done that. He's got the low down on what really works.