The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents around 290 airlines comprising 82 per cent of global air traffic, has said that while it supports face coverings for passengers and crew on aircraft to minimise the Covid-19 risk, it is against “mandating social distancing measures that would leave ‘middle seats’ empty”.
“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount. 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,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
Commercial passenger flights have been grounded in countries around the world in view of the coronavirus pandemic. As lockdowns ease and flights look to resume operations, one of the safety measures being floated is that middle seats be kept empty to ensure social distancing. Masks for passengers and crew members have also been proposed.
Among the airlines adopting the no-middle-seat rule is the Delta Air Lines in the US, which began blocking middle seats in its aircraft cabins, except in first-class, earlier this month, with the changes in place till June 30.
The IATA, however, has said that onboard social distancing measures can result in “dramatic cost increases to air travel”.
Among the safety measures the IATA has proposed are “temperature screening of passengers, airport workers and travelers; boarding and deplaning processes that reduce contact with other passengers or crew; limiting movement within the cabin during flight; more frequent and deeper cabin cleaning; and simplified catering procedures that lower crew movement and interaction with passengers.”
In India, flight operations have been shut since March 25. Recently, in a communication to airport managers across the country, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has asked all airports to prepare to handle flight operations. Issuing a set of standard operating procedures, AAI’s directorate of operations said: “Once the lockdown period is declared to be over, airports shall be facilitating limited domestic/international scheduled flights in phases, to start with, may be at 30 per cent capacity to facilitate required social distancing.”
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