The national carriers in the former Yugoslavia, which are suffering from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic along with the rest of the industry, will have to enforce social distancing measures on aircraft once more widespread air travel resumes, which will likely include leaving the middle seat on aircraft empty, EX-YU Aviation News writes.
The European Commission will next month present a set of rules for the safe reopening of air travel, including social distancing in airports and planes.
Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's director general, said this is likely to include a requirement to leave the middle seat vacant on flights.
Airlines have already raised concerns that measures to slow the spread of the pandemic could blight profitability long after travel restrictions end.
However, blocking middle seats could also help to head off a potential price war as airlines try to recoup market share as they emerge from the crisis.
Wizz Air, which boasts bases in Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, has already confirmed it will block its middle seat on aircraft.
– We would basically be blocking a third of the airplanes, so a 180-seater would become a 120-seater, and the 230-seater would become more like a 160-seater – Wizz Air’s CEO, Jozsef Varadi, said.
easyJet has also come out in support of the measure, saying it plans to keep the middle seat on its planes empty to allow for social distancing. CEO Johan Lundgren said he hoped the seating measure would encourage more people to fly.
However, Ryanair’s Chief Executive, Michael O’Leary, warned the low cost airline would not return to flying if governments insist planes leave their middle seats empty when travel restrictions are lifted following the coronavirus pandemic.
– We can’t make money on 66% load factors. Even if you do that, the middle seat doesn’t deliver any social distancing, so it’s kind of an idiotic idea that doesn’t achieve anything anyway – he said.
Currently, both Air Serbia and Montenegro Airlines are only operating repatriation flights, while Croatia Airlines maintains a daily service to Frankfurt, EX-YU Aviation News reminds.