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Will Airlines Get Rid Of Middle Seats In A Post-Pandemic World?

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Delta A220

Airlines are in a seriously tough spot right now. People aren’t flying right now as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and airlines are hemorrhaging money while the majority of their planes sit idle. Sure, there are a handful of people still traveling each day (roughly 100,000 people/day vs. 2.2 million people/day back in early March), but the vast majority of us are quarantined at home, with no end in sight.

While things will go back to normal at some point, social distancing is likely here to stay. And that’s hard to do when you’re crammed in like sardines on a plane, with everyone bunched up against one another. So what’s the solution? Because lets face it, masks can only do so much. Interestingly enough, there have been quite a few discussions about this very topic.

Some people want the US to focus on a high speed rail system. And while that’s a viable option in Europe and other countries, the United States is just too damn big for that to work. While trains are great for traveling short lengths, if I wanted to travel from Philly to Orlando, even at 160 mph, you’re looking at a 6.5 hour ride. On a plane? 2 hours. Not to mention, building out such an infrastructure would be cost prohibitive, making the $25 billion that the airlines got look like a drop in the bucket. NEXT.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines is introducing “more room” seat assignments, allowing passengers to pay an additional fee (starting at $39 per passenger, per flight) to confirm an empty middle seat next to them. While some people balked at such an idea, I think they’re onto something here.. But they’re just going about it the wrong way. Rather than make it optional, bake it into the price of your ticket, and split it with the other guy in your row, since he’s also benefiting from this. Suddenly that $39 upcharge is halved, and who’s going to notice an extra $20 per flight leg?

On non-discount carriers, that is probably not a feasible option, as that empty seat would cost them way more than $40, and it’s been shown that these airlines operate on a model where a flight is only profitable when they’re at 65% capacity. Completely getting rid of middle seats would make those margins razor thin. My suggestion? Raise the price of a ticket by $100 or so, get rid of the middle seat entirely, and bring back meal service while you’re at it. Hell, maybe even remove a few rows of seats so people can have more legroom.

Dare to dream, right? I’d love to see the Delta’s and American’s of the world do something like that, but I’m not holding my breath. So that brings us to the next option: reconfiguring seats with barriers between people. Italian design company Avio Interiors recently shared a concept for a new airplane seating arrangement, and while jarring at first, it makes a whole lot of sense. And if that’s too radical and costly for airlines, they also have an interaction-reducing kit that could be installed over seating on existing airplanes.

Not gonna lie, I’m liking this idea a lot. No more having some 300+ pound person encroaching into my limited space, no worries about the nosy person next to me looking at whatever I’m working on, and of course, the physical barrier should that person cough or sneeze. After all, most stores open right now have plexiglass separators between the customer and cashier, so why not bring this concept into planes as well?

Regardless of what airlines decide (or don’t decide) to do, they’re definitely going to have an uphill battle moving ahead. Many companies have discovered that travel isn’t that essential anymore, that something like Zoom can accomplish much the same results at a fraction of the cost. And even me, someone who travels constantly for work, I’m going to be more choosey with my trips moving ahead, as it’s just not worth the risk.

Clearly, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the landscape of travel for years to come. The question is, will you be getting back on an airplane anytime soon? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!

Zander Chance is a technology nut who is always first in line to try out the latest tech gadgets. He also has been an active affiliate marketer for the past 15 years, and he writes about his adventures in that on his blog.

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