Will the Middle Airplane Seat Remain Vacant Post-Virus?

Could the dreaded middle seat on an airplane become a casualty of the coronavirus aftermath?


But don’t jump for joy just yet.

If airlines want to continue the practice of social distancing by eliminating the middle seat, former Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza says to be prepared to pay more for the luxury.

Baldanza appeared on CNBC to discuss the new normal for airlines and that was one of the things he thinks could change when demand for travel picks up again.

“Whether or not people are going to be sitting further apart, that becomes a bigger issue,” he said. “Because are we going to accept that fares are going to go up if you can’t put as many people on the airplane? That’s a tougher call.”

When the host asked him how airlines could risk still having people sit three across in a row, Baldanza said it becomes a price point.

Sitting three across, the risk in the way the plane air circulates isn’t so much what the person next to you does, it’s what are you touching on the tray table, what are you touching in the seats, when you go to the restroom what are touching on the handle? That’s where the biggest risk of transference is in the airplane, not someone next to you or the row behind you or in front of you coughing or sneezing,” he said, noting that a sick passenger still poses a risk. “Now if you want to say no one can sit in the middle seat anymore, that’s going to take a third of the seats out of the airplane but the cost of the flight isn’t going to go down by a third. So everybody has to pay 33 percent more.”

Baldanza also said cleanliness will be paramount.

“I think the new normal will be a couple of things. I think it will be a new view of biological safety to go with operational safety. Airlines have been good about operational safety and putting metrics to that and measuring that and becoming safe,” he said. “But now adding things like are our surfaces clean? Are planes not just clean but are they disinfected? Do our employees understand how to deal with issues that come up from nervous customers or from issues?”

Baldanza continued, “Also, I think the industry has to do a better job explaining to people how the air circulates in an airplane and how it recirculates and is filtered so well, much better than in a restaurant or office building. So that when you’re comfortable going to a restaurant, you should be comfortable getting on a plane again.”

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