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Airlines ‘will have to leave one third of seats empty’ after coronavirus eases

Airlines are likely to be forced to fly with at least a third of seats empty when travel restrictions are lifted, amid fears that it will take up to two years for the aviation industry to recover from the coronavirus crisis.

The International Air Transport Association (Iata) said that carriers were likely to be forced to leave the middle seat vacant when normal commercial flights resume to maintain social distancing. That would effectively lead to common single-aisle jets used for short-haul flights being cut from 180 seats to 120, which could mean higher prices for passengers.

The Airport Operators’ Association (AOA) has said that passenger numbers are unlikely to return to pre-pandemic levels until 2022. In a letter to the chancellor, the association warned that airports may be forced to serve redundancy notices on hundreds of staff by the end of the week.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

The effect of coronavirus is being felt right across the aviation sector which is why we have announced an unprecedented package of support measures to help firms through this extremely testing period.

Air navigation service providers rely on airlines operating for their revenue, so this support will enable them to continue providing their safety critical services, as we help stranded Brits get home and transport vital medical supplies.

Updated information.

Fares set to soar as airlines lose middle seats.  

Air fares are said that they could rise by up to 50% when the lockdown is lifted as airlines adjust to a world in which fewer passengers can be squeezed onto planes.    The loss of the dreaded middle seats has a cost attached because of the era of cheap flights enjoyed for the past 25 years is only possible because of the high density passenger loads on flights.  Competitive fares offer slender margins and profit depends on volume.  In order to break even, low cost carriers need to sell between 75% and 80% on any flight, but removing the middle seats will reduce maximum loads factors to 66%.

John Grant from the Aviation analysts OAG said “ Such a significant cut in capacity per flight will certainly lead to an increase in average fares as demand picks up. The operating economics of the airline industry are wafer thin at the best of times and removing 30% of available capacity will have an inevitable consequence.”                                             (Source: drawn from The Sunday Times 19/4)