Virgin and Qantas have now stopped passengers sitting next to each other in order to improve social distancing onboard.
The move comes after Qantas faced criticism when a tweet showed a packed flight from north Queensland to Brisbane on 13 April.
Here is the boarding pass dated yesterday. The flight pic is genuine. If anyone can tell me how to display a date on a pic that's already been taken, let me know. @QANTAS #SocialDistancing #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/3gVfHxA7Ia
— 😷🐨💧Greenmitty🌳 (@greenmitty) April 14, 2020
In the US, Delta, Alaska and Spirit airlines have also effectively blocked the middle seat.
Virgin’s new seating arrangements, announced on Friday, will be applied automatically through the airline’s reservation system, which can cap flights and block seats between groups.
It will be complemented by a new simplified onboard menu designed to reduce contact between passengers and airline crew. Water and a snack will be served to guests, regardless of cabin class.
Passengers will, however, no longer be able to purchase food onboard.
Virgin Australia general manager Paul Woosnam said, “While the risk of contracting coronavirus on an aircraft is deemed low we have put in place social distancing measures on our flights for the health and safety of our passengers and crew who are always our number one priority.
“We hope this new policy, along with the flexible booking options we are already giving travellers, instils confidence in people who are required to travel for essential reasons.”
Meanwhile, Qantas followed Virgin’s announcement on Monday morning by confirming it would follow suit, but argued that, previously, social distancing was almost happening by default due to the low numbers of guests on each flight.
Earlier this month, Qantas released a statement to the media titled “Facts on coronavirus and crew”, in which the airline argued, “There’s been no confirmed cases of transmission of the coronavirus to employees or customers on board our aircraft, or any aircraft globally”.
The statement was controversial because the Australian government signalled a large proportion of coronavirus cases originated from overseas, most of which would have arrived in the country via flying.
On 23 March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison effectively banned anyone from leaving the country, except for a few specific exemptions, to stop the spread of the pandemic.