Poll: Selling Middle Seats As Airlines Return to Passenger Service is …

IATA expects airlines to have to offer low fares to stimulate demand at least through 2021—making it unlikely for the industry to return to a profit. “We expect demand to be relatively weak when air travel restarts,” IATA chief economist Brian Pearce said during a May 5 briefing. 

Social distancing on board—such as leaving the middle-seat empty on narrowbody aircraft—would “challenge the viability of airlines,” Pearce argued. On narrowbodies, such measures would allow for a maximum load factor of 66%. When widebodies and regional jets are taken into account, only 62% of seats could be filled. Contrasted with pre-COVID-19 crisis breakeven load factors of 75% for North America, 81% for Asia Pacific and 79% for Europe, the impracticality of empty middle seats becomes clear.

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