Leaving middle seats empty in flights can limit COVID-19 spread: Study

By Sayujya S, Desk Reporter
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According to a new study, leaving middle seats empty could give airline passengers more protection from the virus that causes COVID-19.

Researchers said the risk of passengers being exposed to the virus from an infected person on the plane could be reduced by 23 percent to 57 percent if middle seats are empty, compared to a full flight. The study, released recently, supports the response of airlines that limited seating at the onset of the pandemic. However, a majority of the airlines across the globe have stopped blocking the middle seat and are selling all tickets.

The airlines argue that filters and air-flow systems on most planes make them safe when passengers wear face masks, as they are now required to do by federal regulation.

The study

Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kansas State University estimated how far airborne virus particles travel inside a plane. They used mannequins that emitted aerosol to measure the flow of virus particles through airline cabin mockups.

The study, however, did not take into account the wearing of face masks because it was based on a previous study done in 2017, before the pandemic. Nor did it consider whether passengers are vaccinated against COVID-19. The CDC says vaccinated people can travel at low risk to themselves, although the agency still recommends against non-essential travel.

Airlines for America, a trade group for the largest US carriers, said airlines use several layers of measures to prevent the spread of the virus on planes, including face masks, asking passengers about their health, and stepped-up cleaning of cabins.

The group cited a Harvard University report funded by the airline industry as showing that the risk of transmitting the coronavirus on planes is very low.

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