Post COVID-19 Travel: Airfare can soar 50 per cent if middle seats are left empty

 Thursday, May 7, 2020 

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Most of the global travellers should buy hefty air ticket prices, if the airline carriers are expected to maintain social distancing measures on flights to reduce chances of COVID-19 infection, with airlines warning that recovery from this global pandemic could be severely jeopardised if middle seats are left empty.

Brian Pearce, chief economist said on behalf of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that the international and domestic airfares could soar by 54 per cent for travellers in Asia-Pacific Region, the highest worldwide, as airlines would be operating at nearly 40 per cent lower capacity if the middle seats were eliminated. It is also said that by removing the middle seats, the cost of providing services is higher, eventually airlines will have to reflect that in fares to have viable operations.

International Air Transport Association (IATA) is representing some 290 airlines accounting for 82 per cent of global air traffic, said that more than on-board social distancing, thorough and frequent cabin sanitization, making passengers wear masks on flights and implementing other health and safety measures at airports would reduce the risk of COVID-19  transmission among global air travellers.

Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO, said that the discussions among governments and aviation bodies are under way to see what standardised rules could be adopted to protect public health in a post-Covid-19 era. If more social distancing is to be enforced, “cheap travel is over”.

The airlines would have to increase hefty prices as only four airlines out of 122 surveyed by IATA could break even at load factors below 62 per cent, with the other 118 carriers being loss-making.

There has been some resistance from within the industry to the “middle seat” proposal. Ryanair, Europe’s biggest budget carrier, has said that it will not resume services if the requirement is imposed.

Meanwhile in China, where travel restrictions have been eased as the outbreak has been brought under control, airfares on some domestic routes saw significant increases during the Labour Day holiday in the first week of May compared with the Ching Ming Festival holiday in April. Still, the domestic airfares in China were 32 per cent lower compared to the year-earlier period.

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