The Hustle

A small pandemic bright spot? The end of the airplane middle seat

The middle seat is the absolute worst, so it’s unlikely anyone who’s actually flying would miss it.

April 24, 2020

Attention all passengers. Even in the friendly skies, social distancing is important. But can carriers keep operating while keeping travelers 6 feet apart?

TBH, most of us will love this 

Many airlines are discussing — and some have actually gone through with — axing the middle man … er, seat. Which, great. Unless you’re a weirdo who likes rubbing your sweaty forearms against those of strangers, the middle seat is the absolute worst.

These efforts are part of a larger effort to slow the spread of coronavirus and — perhaps more importantly for the industry — reassure customers that air travel is safe.

But not everyone is on board

Social distancing measures mean short-haul flights carry loads of 66% capacity or less. To break even financially, most carriers need loads in the 70% range. In other words, playing it safe is costing carriers money.

Ryanair, an Irish carrier known for budget fares, has said it’s prepared to stay grounded if forced to keep middle seats empty — its CEO called the idea “idiotic.” 

And cutting out the middle seat doesn’t even create enough space. According to the BBC, one would need to maintain 4 seats’ distance from others to stay at the recommended 6-foot distance. 

Middle seats aside, the coronavirus has been a kidney punch for airline travel. Passenger loads of 10% or less aren’t uncommon on US flights, and some carriers are planning to slash schedules by as much as 90% in the next few months.

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