Domestic airline FlySafair says it will offer customers the option to social distance by neutralising the middle seat in a row of three seats on an aircraft.
The airline, which has resumed limited domestic flights under the country’s level 3 lockdown, said that the option to buy the middle seat is purely to give travellers peace of mind.
“Research has indicated that neutralising the middle seat is not a significantly effective measure in actually preventing the spread of Covid-19 from one person to another as long as other important measures are being implemented,” it said.
“In agreement with this, the Ministry of Transport placed no restrictions on the number of people that may board an aircraft, with the only exception that there be an empty row at the back to isolate anyone who becomes ill on board.”
FlySafair said however, that it respects that some customers might prefer that the middle seat be left open anyway.
“Leaving seats open, severely constrains an airline’s ability to earn, and so the facility comes at a fee of R750 per person,” it said.
“The product was initially in development to provide a Business Class alternative that would offer customers some extra space and privacy, but FlySafair sped up the implementation to be able to offer the product at a discounted rate in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
FlySafair said that both parties will be required to pay the fee. “The R750 charge doesn’t cover the average fare that could be achieved on the empty seat, so the hope is to achieve that through having two parties pay the fee,” it said.
Transport minister Fikile Mbalula acknowledged FlySafair’s move and said there was nothing wrong with the airline introducing the option.
“We cannot be opposed to it,” said Mbalula. “I’m not a spokesperson for FlySafair – it is a marketing tool. They don’t need our permission for that.”
New airline rules
Addressing the media on Wednesday (3 June), Mbalula said that inside the cabin, full capacity will be allowed.
He added that the risk of Covid-19 infection onboard a commercial passenger airliner is lower than in many other confined spaces.
“All our commercial aircraft are fitted with the High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters. These are manufactured to the same standard as those used in hospital operating theatres and industrial clean rooms, with the same efficacy of 99.97% in removing viruses,” he said.
“While the total air supply inside the cabin is essentially sterile and particle-free, the biggest risk is if someone enters or remains in that environment, while unwell with a viral infection. This risk will be mitigated through the adoption of effective sanitization and personal hygiene protocols.”
He said that the following measures will apply inside the cabin of the aircraft:
- No catering will be allowed:
- No magazines on board;
- The last row will be reserved for isolation of suspected cases.
- All aircraft must be disinfected before entering into service and after each flight.
The disembarkation process will be as follows:
- Masks must continue to be used when disembarking and moving towards the baggage carousels;
- Physical distancing rules will apply at the baggage carousels;
- Crowding close to the baggage carousels will not be permitted.
You can read the full list of rules here.