What measures have so far been introduced on those flights currently being operated?
Many airlines in the US including Delta, American and Spirit Airlines have already blocked off the middle seats for most, if not all, of their flights. The European low-cost airline, easyJet, has indicated that it will do the same in the short-term once flights resume. Ryanair, however, opposes this preferring temperature checks at departure airports as the primary measure for reducing infection. Of course, middle seats are generally the least preferred on the aircraft and, in the short-term, load factors are likely to be relatively low, so the potential loss of revenue may not be very significant for some airlines. Some relaxation of the middle seat rule might also apply for families travelling together. It is also likely that the risk increases not only by the physical distance between passengers but also by the duration of the flight.
Many US domestic and airlines operating in China and SE Asia require all passengers to wear face masks. This initiative, led by jetBlue, whose CEO defines this as the ‘new flying etiquette’ has also been followed by other US airlines including Delta, United, Alaska, Southwest American and Frontier.
The US Association of Flight Attendants has called for the Federal Government to make the wearing of face masks for all US airlines. To date, Lufthansa is the only European airline to make the wearing of masks compulsory for all passengers. But should this go further with a stipulation by ICAO for the mandatory wearing of masks by all passengers worldwide, at least for the foreseeable future?
Other in-flight procedures adopted by US airlines include the provision of disinfectant wipes for all passengers and deep cleans between flights and overnight. There have been suggestions that, in the immediate future, all bags should be checked in free, thereby limiting passenger interaction loading overhead lockers. At present, all these measures are at the discretion of individual airlines – although clearly at present they need to demonstrate to passengers that the flights are as safe as practically possible. A key concern is how long airlines are prepared to operate in this way, particularly with potentially unprofitable load factors. There may be a strong temptation to relax these measures, particularly if the public starts to tire of social distancing.