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- German budget airline Eurowings, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, will start letting passengers book the middle seat next to them, in order to socially distance on flights.
- US budget carrier Frontier Airlines was criticized for a similar program in May, with lawmakers accusing the airline of profiteering over safety considerations.
- Other airlines, including Delta, have blocked off middle seats, sacrificing some revenue but enjoying positive press.
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German airline Eurowings, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, said on Wednesday that it would begin allowing customers to book empty middle seats next to them when they fly, part of a plan to allow passengers to socially distance while aboard.
On intra-Europe flights, most airlines only block middle seats in rows near the front of the plane, a way of creating a rudimentary business class section that predates the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, Eurowings is extending that option to economy class passengers for a fee starting at 18 euros (about $21).
US budget airline Frontier announced a similar program in early May, allowing passengers to block the middle seat next to them for $39.
However, the airline withdrew the plan within a day, after being accused of profiteering. “I find it outrageous that an airline sees the imperative for social distancing as an opportunity to make a buck,” Rep. Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said at the time. Lawmakers argued that if blocked middle seats contributed to passenger safety, the airline should standardize the practice, rather than upselling.
Several US airlines, including Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue, have limited capacity on flights and blocked most middle seats. Other airlines, including American, United, and Spirit, do not have capacity limits, and argue that frequent disinfection of planes combined with passenger mask requirements should be sufficient.
According to a statistical model from MIT, filling the middle seat on flights roughly doubles the risk of COVID-19 transmission, although the overall risk likely remains low.