Travel restrictions might soon be ended in Australia but these relaxations are not without their risks as airline representatives have said that there would be no social distancing employed on flights.
Some commentators have suggested that in order to make flights safer, that the middle seat in each row should be left empty. But according to Qantas CEO Alan Joyce that is a naive notion that will deliver no real benefit at all.
In an interview with ABC he said, “This idea of the middle seat [being kept free] isn’t social distancing, it’s a 60cm difference between two people. To get the full [1.5 metres] squared, you will end up with 22 people on an aircraft of 180 seats.”
He added that for each seat that was left open the airfare would increase, meaning that if applied properly ordinary tickets would cost nine to 10 times more than usual.
Joyce’s statement was quickly underscored by Dr Ian Hosegood, the airlines Medical Director who said that the risk of transmission while flying was low. “It’s due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don’t sit face-to-face and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier,” he said.
“As far as the virus goes, an aircraft cabin is a very different environment to other forms of public transport.
“In-flight transmission’s just not something that we’ve seen, and that was even during the peak of the pandemic. At this point and into the coming weeks the likelihood of anyone travelling domestically with Covid is extremely low, and those other factors mean that the risk is infinitesimal.”
Medical experts not as sure as airline boss
The Qantas standpoint was quickly refuted however with epidemiologist and infectious disease expert, Professor Mary-Louise McLaws telling the Guardian that aeroplanes make for ‘brilliant amplification environments’ for the virus.
“Perhaps there haven’t been confirmed cases from flights, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be careful, and it could just mean we haven’t identified them as a risk factor yet… There are still a significant amount of cases that are under investigation,” she said.