As the World Health Organisation and many state governments have issued “social distancing” guidelines, different airlines have taken different tacks to implement the concept.
The advice from WHO (current at time of writing), states:
“Maintain at least one-metre (three-feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.”
The CDC, conversely, suggests:
“Avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately six feet or two metres) from others when possible.”
In an aviation context, this roughly equates to remaining two seats away in any direction from other passengers.
Some operators, such as American Airlines, have formally changed their policies to reflect this. AA’s senior VP for customer experience, Kurt Stache, said that changes will be made to:
- Seating assignment adjustments;
- Food service changes;
- Lounge service updates; and
- The ability to transport pets.
Notably, Stache said, “Our gate agents can re-assign seats at the gate to create more space between you and other travellers. To make this easier, we’re blocking half of all middle seats.”
However, the airline also made it clear that these policies are subject to operational requirements and may change at any time.
Germany’s Lufthansa, on the other hand, has found itself in a more conflicting position. Though the airline said that at least one seat will be left between each passenger on all of its domestic and outbound international flights, officials said that international flights landing in Germany will be exempt from the policy. With many Germans remaining stranded abroad, the airline had this to say:
“This regulation does not apply on flights to Germany, because the airline’s top priority remains returning as many people as possible to their home country.”
On the ground, Lufthansa and its LCC subsidiary Eurowings are seeking to apply social distancing policies to all incoming flights upon arrival. The company has said it will look to avoid bus gates where possible, and use additional buses to space out passengers where necessary.
This highlights the different sets of challenges posed to airports, most of which have yet to implement formal social distancing policies. Though traffic has been greatly reduced even in major international hubs, repatriation flights have seen periodic surges in arrivals and/or departures.
Footage circulated on Australian media yesterday sparked outrage, showing hundreds of arrivals from hard-hit parts of Asia and the Middle East queuing close together as they arrived at Sydney Airport.