Moves by governments to enforce distancing on planes will push up fares and make some routes uneconomic when restrictions are lifted, airlines warn.
In this country, Air New Zealand is working to support government guidance around social distancing by allocating seating to allow more space around passengers where possible.
With such light loads on its limited services this hasn't been difficult but if restrictions on domestic travel are lifted under level 2 guidelines to be revealed today the airline will be looking for any further guidance around spacing between passengers.
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The announcement could trade-off a relaxation of the domestic leisure travel ban with the continued requirement to keep space between travellers.
Its revenue chief Cam Wallace yesterday said there were still a high number of no-shows on short-haul international flights and the airline was looking at a new domestic schedule if rules were relaxed.
An airline body says continued requirements to maintain at least one metre of space between passengers will push up fares around the world in the longer term.
The body representing most airlines around the world, the International Air Transport Association, has calculated that physical distancing on planes will reduce loads on average to about 62 per cent.
Of a sample of 122 member airlines, only four were able to make money on those loads - which effectively leaves the middle seat empty - in the past year.
To break even while selling fewer seats, airlines would need to increase fares.
Depending on the region and its baseline average achieved load factor, IATA expects the fare increase to be between 43 per cent in the Middle East and 54 per cent in the Asia-Pacific region. In this region, average break-even load factors are 81 per cent.
Leaving the middle seat empty on an Airbus A320 would increase costs per passenger by 50 per cent while physical distancing on a Boeing 777 would add 67 per cent to costs. Air New Zealand flies both aircraft models.
Yesterday on the @FlyAirNZ short haul international network we had 529 passengers booked, with 352 travelling. Team are looking at a potential level 2 schedule depending on the restrictions. @andykirton— Cam Wallace (@CamWallace_NZ) May 6, 2020
If fuel prices stayed low that would help airline economics but IATA says demand would be subdued because of nervousness over travel and less spending power due a widespread recession.
The association says it supports the wearing of face coverings for passengers and masks for crew while onboard aircraft.
The move was a critical part of a layered approach to biosecurity to be implemented when people return to travelling by air.
In addition to face coverings, IATA recommends a number of temporary biosecurity measures, including the temperature screening of passengers, boarding and deplaning processes that reduce contact with other passengers or crew and limiting movement within the cabin during flight.
More frequent and deeper cabin cleaning might also reduce risks.
Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is low, the association said.
Mask-wearing by passengers and crew would reduce the already low risk, while avoiding the steep cost increases to air travel that onboard social distancing measures would bring, said IATA chief executive Alexandre de Juniac.