Which airlines block off seats to aid social distancing?

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Should airlines keep some seats on their planes free to help passengers practice social distancing amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic?

There are arguments for and against it from a health perspective. You might wonder whether there’s any point in staying six feet apart from people when you’re sharing the same air supply with them for an hour or more.

But as airlines repeatedly point out, modern aircraft are equipped with advanced filtration systems that remove particulates (including viruses) from the air and pump in fresh air.

It takes two to four minutes for fresh air to be circulated through the entire cabin, so while it’s not risk free, flying on a plane is comparable to other enclosed spaces you might find yourself in. When masks are worn by everyone on board (as is required by all airlines), the risk is reduced even further.

Then there’s the question of whether it’s possible to keep socially distanced throughout a flight anyway. This will depend on how the flight is coordinated by your airline, where you’re sitting, whether you need to stow a bag in the luggage bin and whether you can avoid going to the toilet… but even on an ideal flight, let’s assume it’s unlikely.


Still, people may see a difference between briefly passing close to other passengers and sitting next to them for an entire flight. While there have been mixed results in studies of whether it’s safer to sit in the window, middle or aisle seat, in a study of a recent flight during which 11 people contracted Covid-19, eight of those people were sitting within two rows of a previously infected person.

Social media posts featuring crowded cabins have gone viral this summer, with some arguing airlines are putting profit above safety by packing out their planes.

Which airlines are blocking seats or limited seat sales on flights?

Not many. Some have argued the financial toll makes it impossible; others that the health benefits are not worth the cost.

When it comes to UK-based airlines (British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Easyjet, Ryanair, Wizz Air, Jet2) none are blocking seats or limiting the sale of seats to aid social distancing.

In fact, consumer watchdog Which? recently reported that some airlines are not keeping passengers apart even when they could do so, and still making groups pay extra to be seated together.

The situation is much the same with other Europe-based airlines, though KLM allows groups who book together to select seats for free, while German low-cost carrier Eurowings is allowing passengers to block off a seat next to them from €18 (£16) one-way.

The practice of seat blocking is most common in the US, though again not with all airlines. Currently, Alaska Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest are not selling the middle seat (where passengers are travelling individually) or aisle seat (where they are in a two). 

Do you think airlines should block off seats or sell fewer seats to help passengers social distance? Let us know in the comments.

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