Air travel is still way down compared to this time last year. But it is picking up. As it does, more airlines are interested in increasing capacity on their flights.
Southwest recently announced that it will start making middle seats available on Dec. 1. And Delta’s CEO said it’ll likely do the same sometime in early 2021.
Bridget Fetzer and her husband were planning to fly from Baltimore to San Diego in December, rent a convertible and drive up the coast to San Francisco. They had the tickets and everything.
“Then in October, my husband got an email from Southwest that said that they are no longer going to keep the middle seats empty on the flights,” she said.
That made them nervous. Fetzer had flown once, earlier in the pandemic, to Kentucky on a pretty empty plane.
“There were a lot of people that weren’t wearing their masks, or like they were pulling them down below their noses and stuff like that,” Fetzer said.
And the idea of that happening on a full flight was a deal breaker. She and her husband canceled their trip.
A lot of people do still feel safer with an empty seat next to them on a plane, said Edward Russell, who covers aviation for the travel site The Points Guy.
“The reality, though, is that can’t continue forever,” he said. “Airlines are for-profit businesses.”
Businesses that have been hemorrhaging money for months.
Southwest said its policy of blocking middle seats cost the airline roughly $20 million in September and could cost it up to $60 million in November.
“American and United from early on have not blocked middle seats and shown that people are still willing to fly them,” Russell said. “They’ve seen their passenger numbers rise.”
It’s still unclear how much keeping middle seats empty could reduce the risk of getting COVID on a plane, said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt. But, he said, “the closer we are to more people for prolonged periods of time in an enclosed space, our risk goes up.”
If airlines are going to fill every seat, “that makes it all the more important that everyone on the aircraft wear their masks for as long as possible,” he said.
That’s the only way Fetzer would consider getting on a full flight: If everyone was wearing a mask — correctly — the whole time. That, or the pandemic was under control.
COVID-19 Economy FAQs
Millions of Americans are unemployed, but businesses say they are having trouble hiring. Why?
This economic crisis is unusual compared to traditional recessions, according to Daniel Zhao, senior economist with Glassdoor. “Many workers are still sitting out of the labor force because of health concerns or child care needs, and that makes it tough to find workers regardless of what you’re doing with wages or benefits,” Zhao said. “An extra dollar an hour isn’t going to make a cashier with preexisting conditions feel that it’s safe to return to work.” This can be seen in the restaurant industry: Some workers have quit or are reluctant to apply because of COVID-19 concerns, low pay, meager benefits and the stress that comes with a fast-paced, demanding job. Restaurants have been willing to offer signing bonuses and temporary wage increases. One McDonald’s is even paying people $50 just to interview.
Could waiving patents increase the global supply of COVID-19 vaccines?
India and South Africa have introduced a proposal to temporarily suspend patents on COVID-19 vaccines. Backers of the plan say it would increase the supply of vaccines around the world by allowing more countries to produce them. Skeptics say it’s not that simple. There’s now enough supply in the U.S that any adult who wants a shot should be able to get one soon. That reality is years away for most other countries. More than 100 countries have backed the proposal to temporarily waive COVID-19 vaccine patents. The U.S isn’t one of them, but the White House has said it’s considering the idea.
Can businesses deny you entry if you don’t have a vaccine passport?
As more Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the economy continues reopening, some businesses are requiring proof of vaccination to enter their premises. The concept of a vaccine passport has raised ethical questions about data privacy and potential discrimination against the unvaccinated. However, legal experts say businesses have the right to deny entrance to those who can’t show proof.
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