FlySafair, which aims to resume domestic flights when SA’s lockdown lifts, has introduced social distancing seating options, which allows passengers to elect to keep the middle seat next to them open during the booking process – at a price.

“As a policy, we will fill window and aisle seats before allocating passengers to middle seats but passengers booking on our website can also select our new ‘blocked seat’ option to keep the middle seat in their row free. This option is available for all fare classes booked and costs R750, which is substantially cheaper than buying a second ticket,” says VP of Sales and Distribution, Kirby Gordon.

Other health and safety measures FlySafair has introduced include the requirement for all staff and passengers to wear masks. These are provided to passengers in sealed packages before boarding. The airline will also ‘deep cleanse’ aircraft every evening and cabin crew will do clean-downs between flights. There is a strict ‘no touch’ policy on board and all passengers will be provided with hand sanitiser. Crew and passengers will also have their temperatures taken with boarding denied to anyone with a temperature of over 38 degrees.

The end of cheap travel

A number of airlines internationally have introduced on-board social distancing seating as a preventative measure against the spread of COVID-19. Industry experts have expressed scepticism on how sustainable this is.

Iata believes inflight social distancing will result in the demise of cheap travel.

“Either you fly at the same average price as before, and you lose enormous amounts of money, or you increase the ticket price by at least 50% and you are able to fly with minimal profit. It means that if social distancing is imposed, then cheap travel is over. Voila!” says Alexandre de Juniac, DG and CEO of Iata.

Iata Chief Economist, Brian Pearce, says empty middle seats would mean load factors on a short-haul flight would be a maximum of 66%, and with breakeven load factors typically 70%-plus, it would have a negative impact on the economics of short-haul flights.

“Initially, I think it is needed to make people feel comfortable,” says Gueric Dechavanne, VP of Commercial Aviation and Valuation Services at Collateral Verifications LLC. “Does the middle seat do anything? Whether you’ve got 17 or 18 inches between you and the next person, does it matter a great deal? I think you just have to be cautious.”

“We do believe this option is sustainable in the long term and our intention is to continue to offer the service to passengers as a premium on-board experience,” says Gordon.

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