Airlines may adopt new social distancing seating

Airlines are making plans to fly jets only two-thirds full when travel restrictions are finally lifted, amid fears that it will take up to two years for the aviation industry to recover from the novel coronavirus crisis.

The most common single-aisle jets, used for short-haul flights, would cut seats available from 180 to 120, which could mean higher prices for passengers.

Passengers travelling with Virgin Australia on domestic flights will be seated next to an empty seat as part of a new social distancing policy announced by the airline.

The Australian carrier said the new policy, which will be in place “until further notice”, will also include a simplified onboard menu offering to reduce contact between passengers and the airline’s crew. Complimentary water and a snack will be served to all passengers, and food and beverages will no longer be available for purchase onboard.

“We hope this new policy, along with the flexible booking options we are already giving travellers, instils confidence in people who are required to travel for essential reasons,” said Virgin Australia’s general manager of customer service delivery, Paul Woosnam.

In addition to this, airlines are expected to add a pre-flight announcement, imploring passengers to practice good hygiene.

Airlines are doing a lot more than blocking off middle seats to protect passengers and staff. Several are not allowing people to sit in close proximity to the flight attendants’ jump seats, the pull-down perches where they sit facing passengers during takeoffs and landings.

But it does not mean planes will always be awash in empty seats. A passenger recently tweeted out of a photo of a full flight – nearly all seats occupied, judging from the snapshot – and questioned the Australian airline’s dedication to the concept of distancing.