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Many of the world’s major airlines will be filling middle seats again effective July 1, after suspending these sales to assist with physical distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The move is supported by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which advocates reducing the risk of virus transmission through a series of measures such as electronic pre-flight health declarations, wellness screening at the airport and government testing and contact tracing. The association said that while it recommends passengers and crew wear face masks while on board aircraft, it does not support mandated measures to leave middle seats empty.
“Social distancing on board (leaving the middle seat open) is obviated by the wearing of face coverings by all on board on top of transmission reducing characteristics of the cabin (everybody is front facing, air flow is from ceiling to floor, seats provide a barrier to forward/aft transmission, and air filtration systems that operate to hospital operating theatre standards),” said IATA in a May 19 press release.
Both Air Canada and WestJet have announced they will resume ticketed sales for adjacent seats starting July 1. Customers who do not wish to fly in full airplanes have options to rebook on less crowded flights.
“As of July 1, we will be transparent about flights booked close to capacity in Economy Class and will provide rebooking options for customers booked on such flights,” said Air Canada in a June 29 press release. In such cases, travellers will receive an email in advance of check-in and announcements will be made at the departure gate. If passengers do not wish to board, they can rebook within three days without additional fees.
WestJet said it is “committed to ensuring our protocols are consistent with the best practices and advice available to us from around the world.” The Calgary-based airline said it is adopting IATA health and safety guidance and implementing its recommendation to make middle seats available once again.
Both Canadian airlines already check passengers’ temperatures before boarding, require masks on board and have amped up aircraft cleaning and sanitation procedures.
Transport Canada previously advised operators to space out passengers where possible; however, a spokesperson for Transport Minister Marc Garneau told CBC that advice is a recommendation and not a mandatory requirement.