[Ref Flight International Magazine 12 – 18 May 2020]
In 2019, carriers on average needed load factors of 77% to break even.
If regulations to leave seats empty were to be introduced, he expects that “most airlines will really struggle” and ticket prices would be “significantly higher” in the long term, compared with pre-crisis levels – IATA predicts that average fares would need to be increased by 43-54% for airlines to break even.
However, the airline association says the practice of leaving seats empty has not been proven to reduce the risk of infection on board aircraft, even though it has been introduced by a number of airlines.
IATA’s medical advisor, David Powell, suspects that relatively high air-recirculation rates on board aircraft (compared with air-conditioning systems in offices), use of hospital-style HEPA filters, and forward-facing seats, which limit opportunity for face-to-face contact, all help keep the infection risk low during flight.
As a result, IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac argues that while keeping seats empty would have “an enormous financial and operational impact on airlines”, the practice would bring “no additional guarantee of safety to avoid virus transmission”.
IATA advocates the use of face masks by passengers and crew on board aircraft, alongside additional measures to reduce infection risks. These include temperature screening for passengers and staff, adjusted boarding and disembarkation processes to reduce contact, simplified catering, limited movement in the aircraft cabin, and more intensive cabin-cleaning.