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Brief Published: 25 May 2020

Airlines Rethink the Middle Seat Post-Pandemic


Airlines are reorienting seating arrangements to address the need for social distancing in cramped economy cabins, and the middle seat is under attack. Stylus highlights three strategies for post-pandemic flights.

  • Multi-Functional Dividers: As we mention in Airlines + Covid-19, companies like Italian design firm Aviointeriors are proposing new cabin arrangements that install dividers between seats to avoid face-to-face interaction between passengers. UK interiors agency Factorydesign goes a step further by installing a seat divider that fully blocks the middle seat and provides window and aisle passengers with an additional tray table and storage. While aviation experts debate whether evacuation precautions would permit such dividers, these proposals underline the imperative to rethink the passenger flow in economy cabins. For more on next-gen economy seats, see Air New Zealand’s Bunk Beds for Economy Travellers.

  • Blocking Middle Bookings: As an interim solution, many airlines have announced that they’ll prevent passengers from booking the middle seat when they resume commercial flights. Whether you’re flying Australian flag carrier Qantas, British budget airline EasyJet or Germany’s Lufthansa, you’re guaranteed a seat between you and your fellow passengers. While this move may raise the overall ticket price, it’s imperative that airlines default to no middle seats rather than making customers pay to block it, as US budget airline Frontier proposed. Other airlines – like Air Canada and American Airlines – are reseating people post-boarding to ensure optimal distance between passengers.

  • Smaller Aircraft Win: Collectively, US airlines are expected to retire 900 aeroplanes in 2020 (Cowen Research, 2020). Large aircraft, like the Boeing 747 and Airbus A380, are taking the hit. New fleets will rely on smaller, fuel-efficient models to carry fewer passengers and reduce the risk of in-flight transmission. For more on fuel-efficient aircraft, see Airbus Looks to Nature for its New Eco Design Concept and Airbus’ Mono-Wing Plane Concept.