Qantas is preparing itself to get back into the air once interstate border restrictions are eased. But not everyone is happy with those plans, particularly when it comes to onboard social distancing and other coronavirus-related safety measures.
The airline has attracted a stream of criticism after its publicised plans which indicate, among other things, that there will be no measures to keep passengers apart from each other in an effort to reduce the risk of infection. Wearing face masks will also not be mandatory.
Onboard distancing would increase ticket prices
At a media conference on Tuesday 19 May, chief executive Alan Joyce said it was not economically viable to maintain social distancing. “If we take the middle seat, airfares will probably go up by around 50% … but even the middle seat only gives you 60 centimetres between passengers,” he is quoted as saying by Guardian Australia.
Joyce noted that, in order to adhere to the 1.5m separation that is being widely recommended in many parts of the world, only 22 passengers would be able to fit on a typical narrowbody flight.
“That means airfares are going to be eight to nine times more than they are today. And so, if it’s not needed and it isn’t needed by the medical advice, it definitely economically will not be justified,” he stated
The ABC has previously quoted Qantas medical director, Dr Ian Hosegood, as saying: “Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground.”
Face masks are recommended but not mandatory
Qantas will also not make the wearing of masks mandatory, although it will recommend that passengers wear them.
According to the publication Simple Flying, this decision is at odds with the likes of Cathay Pacific, which made masks obligatory from 15 May.
IATA, the International Air Transport Association, also recommends that passengers and crew wear face coverings for the duration of a flight. The association does, however, oppose onboard social distancing, as does the likes of Lufthansa.
According to IATA’s data, across the industry, an average load factor of 77% is required for carriers to break even on a flight. However, to implement social distancing, load factors would need to be brought down to a maximum of 62%.
Professor says the decision is illogical
Speaking to Guardian Australia, Professor Marylouise McLaws, an epidemiologist and infectious disease expert at the University of New South Wales, said the Qantas decision “fails the test of logic”.
“Preventing Covid-19 is a bundle of many things. It’s staying at home when you’re unwell, it’s hand hygiene, plus social distancing, plus environmental cleaning. When you can’t have one of those, such as social distancing, you need to protect yourself from inhaling or exhaling the virus with a mask,” she said.
But Hosegood believed this was not always practical. “Clearly, there are people who cannot wear masks. In particular, is very challenging to have small children wear masks,” he said. “There are people that have medical conditions that mean they’re unable to wear a mask and some people just are very uncomfortable, so mandating it is challenging.”
Various other safety measures being introduced
Simply Flying reports that both Qantas and its low-cost subsidiary Jetstar will hand out masks and encourage passengers to wear them.
Passengers will also board in sequences; there will be strong encouragement for customers to do an online check-in and to drop off their own bags, and the airline will ask passengers not to move around in the cabin too much.
Passengers will also be given sanitising wipes on board, and inflight service will be simplified to minimise contact between passengers and crew.
You can read more about the Qantas announcement via Twitter here: