The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said it supports the wearing of masks for passengers, but not keeping middle seats empty.
IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac has previously pointed to dramatic cost increases to air travel that would likely come about as a result of such policy.
In comments circulated on Wednesday, de Juniac suggests that these costs outweigh the risk of transmission aboard aircraft, which the IATA ranks as low.
“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount. The aviation industry is working with governments to re-start flying when this can be done safely. Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is low,” he said.
“And we will take measures — such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew — to add extra layers of protection. We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit.”
The IATA outlined a number of reasons why COVID-19 has not resulted in more on-board transmission, and why air travel is different from other modes of transport. Namely:
- Passengers face forward with limited face-to-face interactions;
- Seats provide a barrier to transmission;
- Airflow from ceiling to floor further reduces transmission;
- High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters on modern aircraft clean cabin air to hospital operating theatre standards.
“The cabin environment naturally makes transmission of viruses difficult for a variety of reasons. That helps explain why we have seen little occurrence of onboard transmission.
“In the immediate term, our aim is to make the cabin environment even safer with effective measures so that passengers and crew can return to travel with confidence. Screening, face coverings and masks are among the many layers of measures that we are recommending. Leaving the middle seat empty, however, is not,” said de Juniac.
Other temporary biosecurity policies floated by IATA include:
- Temperature screening of passengers, airport workers and travellers,
- Boarding and deplaning processes that reduce contact with other passengers or crew,
- Limiting movement within the cabin during flight,
- More frequent and deeper cabin cleaning; and
- Simplified catering procedures that lower crew movement and interaction with passengers.