The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just reignited the debate on whether airlines should be blocking middle seats just as airlines thought it was settled.
A newly-publicized study found that maskless flyers could spread COVID-19 at a higher rate when middle seats are not blocked, as Insider’s Hilary Brueck reported. Flyers on opposite ends of a three-seat row with the middle open reduce their risk of exposure by 57%, the study says.
Multiple airlines including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Air, and Southwest Airlines deferred to the trade organization Airlines for America on the issue when reached for comment by Insider.
“Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low,” a spokesperson for Airlines for America told Insider, indicating no changes would be recommended to airlines.
The trade organization also pointed to the DOD and Harvard studies, as well as data from the International Air Transport Association showing low transmission rates among passengers since the start of the pandemic.
“Since the start of 2020, there have been 44 confirmed or possible cases of COVID-19 associated with a flight,” IATA found. “Over the same period, some 1.2 billion passengers have traveled.”
The airline industry was split early on in the pandemic between those that blocked seats and those that didn’t. More airlines started abandoning the policy, however, after studies from the US Department of Defense and Harvard School of Public Health declared air travel to be largely safe, regardless of seat blocks.
Delta Air Lines is the only major US airline currently blocking middle seats but will stop doing so May 1.
Sun Country Airlines, which doesn’t currently block middle seats, told Insider: “We do not currently have plans to change any of our existing seating policies.”
“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve worked closely with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local government, and our industry peers to ensure we’re maintaining top health and safety measures,” spokesperson Erin Blanton said.
Allegiant Air referred Insider to the National Air Carriers Association, which did not respond to a request for comment, while Alaska Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines, and Frontier Airlines also did not respond…