Physical distancing on planes will end era of cheap air travel, aviation industry’s IATA warns

Until there is minimal risk of transmission of Covid-19, and there is no longer a need for social distancing, airlines are not going to be able to continue to operate as they have in the past. Passengers will not be able to sit close together. If at least one seat in three has to be left empty (even that may not achieve a necessary 6ft distance) then the price of tickets will have to rise. Substantially. IATA says the days of cheap air travel will be over if airlines are forced, by governments, to introduce physical distancing measures on planes.  IATA says if they cannot sell one third of their seats, then prices will have to rise by at least 50%. [What is the logic?]  IATA said would particularly hit low cost airlines, and would mean the end of the days of cheap air travel. Recovery of air travel demand will be slow, not only due to infection fear but also economic recessions – many people will be poorer. Also, people have become more used to internet communication. Other changes that airlines are introducing are distancing at airports, and less hand luggage allowed in cabins. Also passengers given pre-packed food, or allowed to bring their own, and no inflight magazines etc. All cutting profits …?

Physical distancing will end era of cheap air travel, industry warns

Iata says airlines will have to raise prices 50% or go bust if Covid-19 rules are enforced

By Julia Kollewe

Tue 21 Apr 2020  (Guardian)

The days of cheap air travel will be over if airlines are forced to introduce physical distancing measures on planes because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry has warned.

Alexandre de Juniac, the director general of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said that if governments ordered airlines to adopt physical distancing onboard aircraft, at least a third of seats would remain empty and airlines would have to raise their ticket prices by at least 50% or go bust.  [This presumably is because airlines and airports make a lot of profit out of their passengers, by a range of other charges – as for extra luggage, choosing their seats, selling things on planes etc – and the airports make money from retail and car parking. So one lost passenger costs the industry more than just their ticket price]. 

“Either you fly at the same price, selling the ticket at the same average price as before, and you lose enormous amounts of money so it’s impossible to fly for any airline, particularly low cost; or you increase ticket prices by at least 50% and you are able to fly with a minimum profit. So it means that if social distancing is imposed, cheap travel is over.”

Iata said domestic air traffic had slumped 70% since early January because of the pandemic and warned that any global recovery was likely to be slow. While domestic routes will open sooner than long-haul, weak consumer confidence amid recession fears will undermine a quick recovery, said Brian Pearce, Iata’s chief economist. Vietnam plans to restart all domestic flights from Thursday.

Pearce pointed to China, where air travel bounced back initially when domestic flights resumed in mid-February, but said the recovery had since stalled with the number of domestic flights at just over 40% of pre-pandemic levels. In Australia, domestic flights are 10% of pre-crisis levels even though new Covid-19 infections are close to zero.

Iata is conducting regional summits with governments this week and called for confidence-boosting measures. While several European countries are starting to ease national lockdowns, “an immediate rebound from the catastrophic fall in passenger demand appears unlikely”, said de Juniac.

The aviation body expects 2020 global passenger revenues to more than halve from last year, a loss of $314bn (£255bn).


Social-distancing on flights would end cheap travel: IATA

By Lewis Harper (Flight Global)

21 April 2020

The imposition of social-distancing measures on commercial flights would mean an end to “cheap travel”, according to IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac.

“It is very clear that if social-distancing is imposed inside the aircraft it will neutralise a huge proportion of seats – at least a third – for short- and mid-haul aircraft,” de Juniac states during a briefing by the airline industry association today.

The former Air France-KLM chief executive notes that break-even load factors on short-haul routes are typically in the low 70s in percentage terms – an unachievable target should social-distancing requirements mean, for example, that carriers must leave every middle seat empty in a 3-3 formation.

Consequently, de Juniac explains, “if you are selling the ticket at the same average price as before, then you lose an enormous amount of money” in that theoretical scenario.

He describes this as an “impossible” situation for any airline, “particularly the low-cost [carriers]”.

With social-distancing imposed, load factors could fall below levels required to achieve profitability, IATA states

One solution would be that “if the ticket price is increased by 50% then you are able to fly with a minimum profit”, he suggests.

Ultimately, however, “if social-distancing is imposed, cheap travel is over”, de Juniac states.

During the same briefing, IATA chief economist Brian Pearce notes that the need for social-distancing on flights is not guaranteed and “will really depend… on health requirements” imposed by governments as travel restrictions are lifted.

On 14 April, IATA released a revised forecast suggesting airlines would lose $314 billion in passenger revenue this year amid the coronavirus outbreak, a fall of 55% from their 2019 income.



Some extracts from an Indian article on

“Recent images of the shuttle buses and aeroplane boarding stairs show large crosses with black-yellow tape indicating the seats and places that are not meant to be occupied. On the shuttle bus, this includes every alternate seat in the front and sides. On the stairs, the tapes will indicate the places to stand.

“A few of the measures that are expected to be implemented at all airports once the operation is live include keeping the middle seats and last three rows empty to minimise contact between passengers. Airlines will also be asked to minimise onboard service in order to prevent close contact between the cabin crew and passengers.

“Pre-packaged food will be kept on the seats prior to boarding while airline could also allow passengers to carry their own food. Other measures will include boarding of just three rows at a time. Airports will also be required to ensure a two-metre distancing during check-in and security check.”



And, from Business Traveller, about Emirates:


“…to reduce risk of spreading the virus by touch, magazines and other print reading material are temporarily unavailable.

“Note that cabin baggage is currently not accepted on flights and carry-on items allowed in the cabin are limited to laptop, handbag, briefcase or baby items. All other items must be checked in, and Emirates is adding this cabin baggage allowance to customers’ check-in baggage allowance.”