Government doubles down on filling middle seat

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

The Australian government has doubled down on its insistence that airlines can fill the middle seat after presenting new guidelines to passengers on Friday morning.

The new ‘Domestic Passenger Journey Protocol’ advises only “passenger separation where possible” but does insist on “physically-distanced boarding” and staff use of gloves and PPE in certain circumstances.

The guidance can be read in full here, and was developed in collaboration with many in the industry as part of the Australian Aviation Recovery Coalition.

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These new health guidelines also advises passengers to:

  • Not fly if unwell;
  • Download the COVID-Safe app;
  • Provide contact details;
  • Check-in online and use digital boarding passes; and
  • Adopt hygiene measures such as frequent handwashing.

Last week, Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, reiterated his support for filling the middle seat on flights, claiming that short-haul airlines present “quite a low risk of transmission”.

It came after both Qantas and Virgin last month reversed an earlier pledge to practice social distancing on board, instead introducing measures such as providing masks and wipes to passengers.

“So whilst initially the airlines were practising good distancing, they are now occupying their seats more fully, and I know that’s one of the circumstances where we think it’s not an unreasonable choice if someone chooses to wear a mask,” said Murphy.

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Australian Airports Association chief executive James Goodwin said of the new guidance: “The managed resumption of some domestic travel has already commenced safely, and this protocol will help build consumer confidence to resume flying again in greater numbers.”

“These guidelines will give confidence to passengers and to an industry that is vital to our economic recovery post-pandemic,” said Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. “The Australian government’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy, along with state and territory chief health officers have considered the protocol and support its release.”

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