Qantas passengers to be given masks, but middle seat filled

written by Adam Thorn | May 19, 2020
Qantas facemasks new
This image, released by Qantas, shows passengers onboard wearing face masks (Qantas)

Qantas and Jetstar will hand all passengers face masks and sanitising wipes as part of a range of “peace of mind” coronavirus measures introduced from 12 June.

However, the airline is insisting it is reluctant to keep the middle seat free when recreational domestic travel resumes in July, reversing an earlier policy introduced in late April.

Qantas medical director, Dr Ian Hosegood, said, “Social distancing on an aircraft isn’t practical the way it is on the ground, and given the low transmission risk on board, we don’t believe it’s necessary in order to be safe.”

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The new initiative is being called the “Fly Well” program and introduces what it’s terming “wellbeing improvements” based on “best-practice medical advice” and customer feedback.

The new pre-flight measures – posted in full below – will see app check-in and self-serve bag drop encouraged, hand sanitising stations at departure gates and lounges and “enhanced disinfection of surfaces”.

Onboard, masks will be provided to all passengers but wearing them will not be mandatory.

Similarly, customers will be handed wipes to wipe down seat belts, trays and armrests if preferred. There will also be sequenced boarding and disembarkation to minimise crowding.

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However, the airline looks set to reverse an earlier policy to keep the middle seat free on domestic flights – if the government allows. Currently, they are being filled for international repatriation flights, but effectively kept empty for essential interstate journeys. As yet, there is no legal obligation in Australia to enforce social distancing onboard.

“The data shows that actual risk of catching coronavirus on an aircraft is already extremely low,” said Dr Hosegood. “That’s due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don’t sit face-to-face and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier.

“As far as the virus goes, an aircraft cabin is a very different environment to other forms of public transport.”

Chief executive Alan Joyce had previously said, “Even if you take the middle seat as being empty, that’s 60 centimetres. The social distancing rules are supposed to be 1.5 metres. If you did that, you’d have very few people on an aircraft and the airfares would have to be very high.”

Today, Joyce played on their experience of flying during the pandemic: “From the early rescue flights we operated right into Wuhan and then more recently bringing Australians back from places like the US and Europe, we have a lot of experience at creating a safe cabin environment for passengers and crew.”

Internationally, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said it supports the wearing of masks for passengers, but not social distancing.

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac has previously pointed to dramatic cost increases to air travel that would likely come about as a result of such a policy.

“The safety of passengers and crew is paramount. The aviation industry is working with governments to re-start flying when this can be done safely. Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is low,” de Juniac.

“And we will take measures — such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew — to add extra layers of protection. We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit.”

Qantas coronavirus prevention measures

Pre-flight

  • Information sent to all customers before they fly, so they know what to expect.
  • Contactless check-in (via online/app) and self-serve bag drop strongly encouraged, including use of Q Bag Tags.
  • Hand sanitising stations at departure gates.
  • Temporary changes to Qantas Lounges, including increased physical distancing, hand sanitising stations, enhanced disinfection of surfaces and adjustments to food and drink service.
  • Working with airports on other safeguards in the terminal, including regular disinfection of security screening points and installing hygiene screens at airline customer service desks, wherever practical.

Onboard

  • Masks provided to all passengers on each flight – while not mandatory from a safety point of view, they are recommended to be worn in the interests of everyone’s peace of mind.
  • Enhanced cleaning of aircraft with a disinfectant effective against coronaviruses, with a focus on high contact areas – seats, seatbelts, overhead lockers, air vents and toilets.
  • Sanitising wipes given to all passengers to wipe down seat belts, trays and armrests themselves, if preferred.
  • Simplified service and catering to minimise touchpoints for crew and passengers.
  • Passengers asked to limit movement around cabin, once seated.
  • Sequenced boarding and disembarkation to minimise crowding.

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17 Comments

  • Anonymous

    says:

    Hi, is Qantas for real? Ruby Process and other LARGE vessels had on board spread of virus – do they think it won’t happen on their small metal tube? Sounds like they are wanting to maximise revenue. There is definitely an accountant behind this stupidity.

    • Patrickk

      says:

      One day ships like Ruby Princess will have HEPA grade air filter. Until that day cruise ships are floating Petri dishes. Planes have much better air filters., and the middle seat won’t make a huge difference.

  • johngyz

    says:

    Aircraft fares are based on seat occupancy. If anonymous wants to pay the 3 or 4 times the cost of a basic fare to travel on a half empty aircraft then go for it otherwise I suggest travel by car. Airlines are a business that relies on the cost of operating flights are covered by revenue. They are not a charity to provide cheap transport. In terms of cost per seat/miles it is one of the cheapest forms of transport. Aircraft air conditioning systems are amongst the best maintained in the world.

  • mike

    says:

    it’s actually quite safe on board aeroplanes. The egg comes into the cabin overhead to seats and is sucked down to floor level where it’s extracted and then passed through HEPA filters which kill viruses and germs and then mixed with fresh air that’s pumped back into the cabin at the roof level again. So it’s not like a ship where is continuously recirculating inside stay all corridors and rooms.

  • TD

    says:

    Repatriation flights are different from domestic flights with other safeguards in place (they are effectively semi emergency flights). The Qantas doctor is also the expert as well (who knows better of course as his position is expendable). I hope people are able to turn the covid app on while on aeroplane mode. I hope non of them breath on the next person when one of them tries to drink something or have a meal because at this stage the aircraft is effectively a 150 or more person buddy bubble flying over Australia in Australian airspace abiding by federal separation rules which apply up to 60,000 feet or so.
    The free part of the flight will be isolation when least expected and or a legal altercation with Qantas for providing use of a Petri hull costing loss of work for two weeks as a starter.
    The light at the end of the tunnel is visible but we aren’t operating at the speed of light yet.

    • TD

      says:

      Forgot to add……who is going to wipe down the toilet seat after every person uses it and spreads their covid free sweat on it? Is there going to be a cleaner or three on board every flight to resanitise the toilets?

    • Maty

      says:

      If you don’t HAVE to fly, then don’t! If you choose to fly then you know ahead what to expect.
      People who need to travel (or who are prepared to take the “risk”) will soon have air transport as another option again, which personally I think is great.
      Taking precautions to look after yourself is prudent and sensible, but will never completely eliminate risk. To live in fear and blame others is not how I choose to live.
      Stepping outside the house is a risk. Driving the car is a risk. Flying is a risk.
      I however accept the small risk which exists to do these things because the alternative of living the life of a frightened hermit is not the way I wish to spend life.
      Just use common sense. Think ahead and of course take precautions to protect yourself, but don’t blame others for your fears.
      Come on and FLY!!!!

      • TD

        says:

        Fully agree Maty. Its just the timing and being aware of fellow flyers doing the rigjt thing or by default the high probabilty of doing the rigjt thing to protect the others.

  • David G

    says:

    Joyce states that keeping the middle seat free gives 60cm spacing. Which Qantas plane has 60cm seat width in economy Alan?

    • Doug Green

      says:

      Apples and Oranges. Seat width isn’t the same as the human to human separation that seat width provides.

  • neil Campbell

    says:

    I find it strange that Qantas think it is Ok to fill the Middle seat.
    Flew Qantas Return Melbourne-Darwin return in March this year before the COVID-19 & border shut down in a Boeing 737-800 with no middle seat.
    The Plane was only half full,& only Window seat,(which I had)& Isle seat.
    Worked out well. conclusion I have is Qantas just want to squeeze as much profit they can get and try and fill their planes.
    Don’t have a problem with masks on.Aircraft. Airliners have a very different filtering air-con systems ,different to Ships,or Public Transport which can stop the spread of a virus & germs.

  • Red Cee

    says:

    Masks only reduce the chance of infection, not eliminate it. The hand sanitiser is a much more effective measure. My gripe, is the reduced services. On any given flight in economy, you only see the stewards twice, maybe three times, unless you buzz them. In reducing cabin services, I believe this is more an economic decision, rather than to do with Covid.

  • Andrew

    says:

    What a joke. Allan Joyce is an over payed joke.

    • James S

      says:

      How so? Easyjey and Ryanair are both returning to the skies with far less safety precautions in place than QF. And they, too, aren’t blocking the middle seat. And both have far less pitch than Qantas.

      Same same with Emirates and Qatar. But Alan Joyce is the joke? NO, the joke is the precious Australian traveller (or probably non traveller) that has a massive opinion but zero understanding or knowledge about aviation related matters.

      BTW, it’s ‘overpaid.’ And if you consider the one CEO who has placed an airline into the strongest position of any non-government airline in the world ‘an over payed joke’ then I suggest you are very far removed from reality. There are hundreds of airlines in the world who right now wish they were in the position of the Qantas Group.

  • Richard

    says:

    Sounds like a spoof…
    When asked about why middle seats were still being sold, they said: “Well, we do like money!”

  • The outraged passengers who complain about the middle seat of an aircraft being occupied would no doubt be outraged if their demand for the middle seat blocked resulted in a hefty fare increase for the revenue loss of those blocked seats. For a 180 seat aircraft for example, about what a 737 carries, to block the the middle seat would mean a revenue loss of 60 seats, a serious one third in effect. This revenue loss would no doubt have to be passed on with up to a 50 % fare increase based on a full aircraft which was often the norm world wide and particularly in Australia prior to the pandemic. Operating an airline is an extremely expensive business and carriers are continually going broke. So for the outraged, you have the other option of driving as no doubt travelling by bus or train would be just as unsuitable. The outraged cannot have it both ways, blocked middle seats and no substantial fare increase.

  • Robyn

    says:

    Why not give passengers the opportunity to purchase the middle seat to keep it VACANT. No other options have been offered.

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