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Empty Middle Seats to Reduce Covid-19 Exposure on Flights

Could leaving the middle seat on a flight empty be the answer to reducing the potential exposure to Covid-19 on flights?

A study has shown that leaving the middle seat empty could reduce exposure by 23-57% compared with a full flight with passengers not wearing masks.

The study analysed data from 2017 research into the in-flight transmission of flu which used techniques similar to those used to approximate airborne transmission of Covid-19.

However, the impact of mask-wearing was not measured as the original study took place before the Covid-19 pandemic and the study measured potential exposure to, not transmission of, virus particles.

Combining the effects of masking and distancing is more protective than either by itself. The physical distancing of passengers could provide additional reductions in exposure risk.

However, the IATA has reacted cautiously to this report as it does not consider the impact of wearing facemasks which has been airline policy for several months. Many governments have made it a legal requirement, including in the US, where it has been a federal mandate from January 2021.