Mandating that empty airline seats are the way to increase physical distance between passengers may not be an effective health precaution on board aircraft. Here’s why.
For one thing, it does not afford a distance of 6 feet – the recommended minimum for social distancing – around each passenger. One coach airline seat on average is about 17 to 18 inches. To provide at least 6 feet, there would need to be at least 4 seats entirely around one passenger – to the left, the right, in rows in front, as well as behind.
On the other hand, there is little medical evidence of passenger-to-passenger spread on board aircraft. The question remains, is that because these close quarters in filtered air are not COVID-19 friendly, or are so few people flying now that the data represents false data?
To comply with safety regulations, children are required to be seated adjacent to their guardians who are responsible for them during a depressurization, so that they can fit their oxygen masks for them while remaining seated with their seatbelt fastened. This would simply not be possible if empty seats are mandated.
Passengers who have a fear of flying or young children often require the reassurance of a fellow traveler alongside them during take-off, landing, and turbulence. Having a flying partner or parent 4 empty airline seats away is not going to be comforting to say the least.
Passengers traveling together within the same family group living at the same residence do not have to maintain a physical distance from each other elsewhere, therefore, they might not be willing to be separated while on board an aircraft.
Advance seat assignment and seat preferences/requests from travelers may not be able to be granted, resulting in increased possibility of disgruntled and/or unruly passengers.
All in all, social distancing in the form of empty airline seats while on board an aircraft seems to have a number of negative impacts that are going to make the resumption of air travel a tricky one.