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Empty Middle Seat? Depends on Which Country You Are Flying In.

FILE - Passengers fly in a nearly empty cabin amid concerns of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during a Delta Airlines flight departing from Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S. April 11, 2020. (REUTERS/Jim Urquhart/File Photo)
Empty Middle Seat? Depends on Which Country You Are Flying In
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For years, travelers have gotten used to low-cost flying on planes filled with passengers. But, like everything else, the coronavirus will change their expectations.

Feng Xueli from Beijing took a flight within China recently. The airplane was full because it was permitted under Chinese rules.

“We needed to wear a mask during the flight,” he said. “You also need to go through a lot of temperature checks and security checks when you leave the airport.”

Travelers, airlines and airports are dealing with the different rules put in place during the pandemic. The rules are different in almost every country.

In Thailand, you cannot have food or water on the airplane and you must wear a mask. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the plane needs to be half-empty. In the United States and Europe, airlines are not required to leave the middle seat open. This means passengers cannot keep social distance.

Subhas Menon is head of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. He said that it is not going to be easy to travel “because of all of the measures that are going to be introduced.”

The last time there were big changes in air travel was due to the 2001 attacks in the United States. Travelers “understood the security requirements that came after 9/11,” said Boeing vice-president Mike Delaney. He added that international airlines need to work together to decide on the new rules for flying.

Airline service is changing too.

Business class meals were once a reason to pay for the higher level of service. Now, those meals are not much better than economy class as airlines such as Emirates, Air Canada, and British Airways cut costs. And Qantas Airways now ask passengers to check in online to limit contact with employees and other fliers.

Empty Middle Seat?

On the airplane, one of the biggest questions has been whether the middle seat should be empty.

That means airlines would only fill 65 percent of the seats on a plane with passengers - not enough to make money without increasing the cost of the seats.

Afif Zakwan recently took a Malaysia Airlines flight within the country that was not required to fly half-empty. He said he was not worried while on a short, in-country flight, but he would not fly internationally for now.

Some nations are setting rules just for airlines registered in their country, while others are setting them for all international airlines.

U.S. airlines are among those requiring passengers and crew to wear masks. They have also said they will make temperature checks.

In Europe, airlines mostly decided not to leave the middle seat empty. But they have made other changes they hope will keep passengers from worrying about coronavirus.

It is hard to social distance on an airplane, Finnair Chief Executive Topi Manner told Reuters. He added that health risks can be lowered by requiring passengers to wear masks.

I’m Susan Shand.

The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

mask – n. a clothe that covers the mouth and nose to prevent spreading disease

pandemic – n. a contagious illness that spreads from one country to another

introduce – v. to bring in something or someone new