In a new study conducted in November by the Centers for Disease Control based on laboratory modeling and released yesterday, the CDC doubled down on its recommendation that airlines should continue to block passengers from sitting in middle seats. The study indicated that middle seat vacancy reduced COVID-19 transmission by 23 to 57 percent compared to full aircraft occupancy on single-aisle and twin-aisle aircraft. A recommendation which many major airlines including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, and Southwest Airlines politely shrugged off.
When asked for comment on the CDC’s new recommendation by Insider, all five major airlines deferred to Airlines for America, a spokesman for which told Insider, “multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low.” The group also shared studies by the Department of Defense, Harvard, and others that showed low transmission rates among passengers since enhanced safety measures were put in place at the start of the pandemic.
To be fair to the airlines who seem to be taking a laissez-faire approach, the CDC also gave the go-ahead in early April for fully vaccinated people to safely travel within the US without the need to self-quarantine or get tested before and after travel as long as safety protocols like wearing a mask and hygiene are followed. All of the major airlines still implement these enhanced sanitary practices and require passengers to wear face masks for the duration of their flight, regardless of vaccination status.
To date, Delta Airlines is the only major U.S. air carrier that is still actively blocking middle seats. But, they plan to stop doing so by May 1st.