Low Cost Carriers Face Huge Trouble if Social Distancing is Imposed on Flights

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said that imposing social distancing on board flights may mean an end to low fares. “It is very clear that if social-distancing is imposed inside the aircraft it will neutralise a huge proportion of seats – at least a third – for short- and mid-haul aircraft,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA director general.

Photo credits: Gary Sato
In a report from FlightGlobal, the former Air France-KLM chief executive notes that break-even load factors on short-haul routes are typically in the low 70s in percentage terms – an unachievable target should social-distancing requirements mean, for example, that carriers must leave every middle seat empty in a 3-3 formation.

De Juniac, in a theoretical example, explains that “if you are selling the ticket at the same average price as before, then you lose an enormous amount of money." This is an impossible situation to airlines, particularly to low cost carriers (LCC).

LCCs make money from the volume of passengers in exchange of a lower profit margin and total reduced costs which result to lower air fares. These airlines also remove all frills to reduce costs like free food, free amenities, and IFEs. Due to the lower and more affordable fares, the LCCs are able to attract more passengers as against full service carriers (FSC) with higher fares.

With social distancing on board, LCCs will be forced to raise air fares in order to make-up for the lost volume of passengers. Fares may even be as high as those being sold by FSCs which will make LCC flights less attractive to passengers.

De Juniac suggests that one solution is to increase air fares by 50% but this will result to minimum profit but maintains that "if social-distancing is imposed, cheap travel is over."

However according to IATA chief economist Brian Pierce, social distancing on board is not really a guaranteed measure and much will depend on government imposed "health requirements" once travel restrictions are lifted.

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