One US airline keeps its middle seat open. This is what science is saying about it.

Delta Air Lines The only major US airline that continues to block the middle seats of airplanes To limit the spread of COVID-19 on flights. The airline has promised to continue doing so until the end of April. Is this a good public health practice or a bad business practice?

The common wisdom is that this is a good idea for passengers and for everyone. A sense of security of health And airlines are interested in their well-being by keeping passengers as far away as possible within the cabin of the plane. However, traditional wisdom is not always correct. As our recent research points out..

From a public relations perspective, blocking middle seats is a very visible action that Delta can take to demonstrate its passenger safety efforts. Other actions, Deep sanitized airplane And the required face cover (Currently federal requirements) Everything helps protect passengers and crew.

Business case

From a business point of view, Delta has barely lost by blocking the middle seats.Airline capacity in recent weeks 60% decrease Compared to travel before COVID-19, the recent rise is May show a new uptrend..

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However, blocking the central seat with a 3-3 plane seating configuration will reduce the capacity of each plane by 33%. With a 2-3 seat configuration, the available seats are reduced by 40%. Therefore, the impact on Delta’s net financial income is minimal, many of which are being reclaimed by more passengers who choose to accompany them, rather than their competitors.

The key question is whether blocking the central seat will make the flight safer for passengers.

safety first

Airplane air filtration system Comparable to the air circulation system used in hospitals.. This means that the filtered air circulates in the cabin of the plane every 2-3 minutes. Passengers can take advantage of such a system by leaving the individual vents fully open to maintain a stable flow of ambient filtered air during flight.

The core of the discussion in the middle seat is How the virus is transmitted in the cabin of an airplane.. Traditional wisdom suggests that viral infections occur horizontally (labeled east-west infections among passengers in adjacent seats in the same row).

However, viral infections can also occur between passengers in adjacent rows labeled North-South infections. If you only have east and west transmissions, it makes sense to block the central seat. But in the north-south transmission The overall risk to airplane passengers can be low The central seat is filled and the adjacent rows are blocked.

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All types of aircraft in the airline fleet have their own seating arrangements. With the essential face cover and high performance air filter system Blocking the middle seat may be restricted if there are additional health benefits For airplane passengers.

Given that the country is approaching herd immunity Over 2 million vaccines Delta is managed daily and it is wise to relax the blocked middle seat policy and use wise seating rules based on the number of seats on the plane and the number of passengers booked on the plane.

As the summer travel season approaches, airlines are likely to experience spikes in demand, resulting in more planes filling up at or near capacity. It’s well within reach that the number of passengers per day will reach 2 million within the next few weeks. The mandatory face cover will continue to be part of your air travel. However, blocking the mid-seat has little public health or economic implications, even if common wisdom suggests another way.

Sheldon H. Jacobson, Ph.D. Is a founding professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He applies his expertise in data-driven risk-based assessment to assess and inform public policy and public health.This column is Initially released Industr.

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This article was originally published in The Indianapolis Star: The airline opens the central seat to prevent COVID.What science says about it