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IATA does not support social distancing on aircraft


IATA has announced that it supports the wearing of masks for passengers and crew while on board aircraft, but does not support mandating social distancing measures that would leave middle seats empty.

Evidence suggests that passengers and crew wearing masks on board will reduce the already low risk of flying, while avoiding the dramatic cost increases to air travel that onboard social distancing measures would bring.

“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO. “The aviation industry is working with governments to re-start flying when this can be done safely. Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low. And we will take measures—such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew—to add extra layers of protection. We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit.”

In addition to face masks, IATA also recommends:

  1. Temperature screening of passengers, airport workers and travelers;
  2. Boarding and deplaning processes that reduce contact with other passengers or crew;
  3. Limiting movement within the cabin during flight;
  4. More frequent and deeper cabin cleaning; and
  5. Simplified catering procedures that lower crew movement and interaction with passengers.

“The cabin environment naturally makes transmission of viruses difficult for a variety of reasons. That helps explain why we have seen little occurrence of onboard transmission. In the immediate term, our aim is to make the cabin environment even safer with effective measures so that passengers and crew can return to travel with confidence. Screening, face coverings and masks are among the many layers of measures that we are recommending. Leaving the middle seat empty, however, is not,” said de Juniac.

An informal IATA survey of 18 major airlines identified, during January-March, just three episodes of suspected in-flight transmission of COVID19, all from passengers to crew. A further four episodes were reports of apparent transmission from pilot to pilot, which could have been in-flight or before/after (including layover). There were no instances of suspected passenger-to-passenger transmission.

A more detailed IATA examination of contact tracing of 1,100 passengers (also during the January to March period) who were confirmed for COVID19 after air travel revealed no secondary transmission among the more than 100,000 passengers in the same flights. Just two possible cases were found among crew members.

There are several plausible reasons why COVID19, which is spread primarily by respiratory droplets, has not resulted in more on-board transmission, and why air travel is different from other modes of public transport:

  1. Passengers face forward with limited face-to-face interactions
    • Seats provide a barrier to transmission forward or aft in the cabin
  2. Air flow from ceiling to floor further reduces the potential for transmission forward or aft in the cabin, moreover, air flow rates are high and not conducive to droplet spread in the same way as in other indoor environments.
  3. High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters on modern aircraft clean cabin air to hospital operating theater quality, further assisted by high levels of fresh air circulation

Moreover, even if mandated, keeping the middle seat open will not achieve the recommended separation for social distancing to be effective. Most authorities recommend one-two meters while the average seat width is less than 50 cm.

“We need a vaccine, an immunity passport or an effective COVID19 test that can be administered at scale. Work on all of these is promising. But none will be realized before we will need to re-start the industry. That’s why we must be ready with a series measures, the combination of which will reduce the already low risk of inflight transmission. And we must be careful not to hard-wire any solution so we can be quick in adopting more efficient measures as they will undoubtedly become available,” said de Juniac.


Calls for social distancing measures on aircraft would fundamentally shift the economics of aviation by slashing the maximum load factor to 62%. That is well below the average industry breakeven load factor of 77%.

With fewer seats to sell, unit costs would rise sharply. Compared to 2019, air fares would need to go up dramatically— between 43% and 54% depending on the region—just to cover costs.

“Airlines are fighting for their survival. Eliminating the middle seat will raise costs. If that can be offset that with higher fares, the era of affordable travel will come to an end. On the other hand, if airlines can’t recoup the costs in higher fares, airlines will go bust. Neither is a good option when the world will need strong connectivity to help kick-start the recovery from COVID19’s economic devastation,” said de Juniac.

© Asia Travel Tips

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Thank you for this infomation. Now I know who NOT to fly with. Their policy is bad.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Airlines could not be profitable if they had to have an empty seat beside each passenger in economy class. Also, it's not practical for families with young children. But if they do keep seats vacant, the result will be increased airfares for economy class. Their only alternative is to make the entire cabin business and first class, which would kill the tourist trade to many countries.

I don't know about anyone else but I'm starting to detest the phrase social distancing.

4 ( +9 / -5 )

IATA: not for me, thanks.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Breathing recirculated air during a pandemic....what could go wrong?

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

BTW the IATA is not an airline company. Its a governing body: International Air Transport Association

6 ( +7 / -1 )

How about 'physical spacing', smartacus, instead of social distancing? :-)

The figures quoted probably do not reflect present fuel prices.

I think everyone needs to be flexible here, including IATA. Start off with empty middle seats, and play it from there, otherwise nothing will get off the ground. Everyone will need to take a little bite of the bullet.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The IATA knows that cheap fares keep airlines profitable by keeping planes full, and many if not most travelers choose their flights and travel plans by ticket cost first and foremost. The industry probably isn't ready for the shock of moving to an essentially all-business class seating arrangement, and the limiting impact that would have on many consumers, in particular tourists. So we get this instead.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

IATA's statements runs in contrary to the reports of several countries that handled the COVID-19 pandemic well.

Is IATA a WHO Part 2?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Thank you for pointing that out before I did Mirai.

This has been covered in several threads on Japan Today previously -regarding the future of the travel.

The Airlines are in no way ready for this - their models can't even comprehend this at present. Not that anyone has singled out a particular airline on this thread for 'overpricing' - 'price gouging' - 'awful service' - and seem to wish for their demise, its really not what we want. Not everyone on who comments on this forum is foreign and/or wishes to visit their home country frequently, but many of us do and right now (for the right reasons) , we can't. At some point there is going to have to be some compromise.

When it suddenly costs 350-400,000 yen for an Economy return ticket to Europe of the East Coast, few people will have the pockets for it.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

It's an excellent point @Reckless, although many safety issues would have to be addressed first, in case of a genuine in flight emergency.

We may well see more people back, sadly in cars or, maybe better back on the train. We are lucky that we have such a great train system here.

Part of the French Governments deal to bail out Air France is that they can no longer compete directly with SNCF on domestic routes up to a certain distance. Paris - Nice being an example. Note, this is only when in direct competition. They can still sell a ticket Nice - Paris - Tokyo and return for example but no longer the domestic ticket only.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


Depends on the length of the flight in my opinion.

The air in the cabin is not ambient air, it's recirculated air. You could put yourself in a plastic box all day long, but it won't do a thing if your breathing the same air as an infected person in the same cabin. This is how people on flight back from Europe and China were infected.

-11 ( +0 / -11 )

Of course they don’t support......


-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Mirai Hayashi

Better to research than say things that aren’t true.


4 ( +4 / -0 )

The air in the cabin is not ambient air, it's recirculated air. 

The ratio of fresh to recycled air in a plane is 50-50 percent, and two things happen with recirculated air: Some air is dumped overboard while the remainder is pumped through HEPA air filters, which remove more than 99 percent of all contaminants, including bacteriologic agents.



The air in the cabin isn’t sealed in. Fresh air is continuously introduced during the flight. A plane’s jets are already sucking in and compressing huge volumes of air to burn with the aviation fuel. Some of this is diverted for the passengers to breathe. Because the compression heats up the air, it must first be ducted around the wings to be cooled down. The air already in the cabin is passed through high-efficiency particulate (HEPA) filters to remove bacteria and viruses and then mixed 50:50 with the fresh air from outside. The excess cabin air is vented through valves to the rear of the plane to keep the cabin pressure constant.


6 ( +6 / -0 )

Another source to check is this video on Youtube with a detailed explanation https://youtu.be/ldm3n0hEsd4?t=170

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is low.

Then why the spacing in lines at store registers?

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Social Distancing is for 1st class passengers.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

So if you're in Coach class, and the person next to you takes sick with what looks like the Corona virus - can you sue the Airline ?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I personally think you have an equal chance of catching the virus traveling to and at the airport itself, especially the 30 minutes of chaos at the gate right before boarding.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

There is always at least one "cowboy"

Cash v Care.

Cash will always win.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Why can't they pass the benefits of lower fuel costs to passengers, slash the fuel surcharges and implement better social distancing in flight?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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