Most travellers dislike being placed in the middle seat on a plane, but this won't be an issue in the immediate future on some flights. Several airlines have made the decision to avoid putting passengers in the dreaded centre seat for the moment, to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
The airlines tweaking their seating arrangements to facilitate social distancing include Qantas, Delta, Alaska and Spirit. American Airlines has taken the approach of not seating passengers in 50% of its middle seats, and JetBlue isn't assigning passengers to around a third of its seats and assigning seats to maintain distance among customers not traveling together. Airlines are also trying to protect attendants by leaving a distance between passenger seating and flight attendants' pull-down seats.
Spacing people out has been easier in many ways because fewer people are travelling at the moment. The problem for airlines is that leaving a third of seats empty detrimentally affects the load factor that airlines need to cover their costs, and while that is necessary at the moment, what will happen in the future is the big question? Travel experts suspect that if this practice continues, ticket prices may rise to make up the shortfall.
Those who have to fly are getting to enjoy having extra room beside them, as it always a delightful bonus when it occurs during regular times. Indeed, sitting next to a vacant seat is so coveted that one airline introduced a new fare last year that guarantees an empty middle seat beside you on a short-haul trip, ensuring that passengers don't have to put up with elbows encroaching on their space during the flight.