3 Links I Love: The Middle Seat Debate, A British Goodbye, Mesa Goes Big

Links I Love

This week’s featured link

Leaving Airplane Middle Seats Empty Could Cut Coronavirus Risk Almost In Half, A Study SaysForbes
Note that this study has not been peer-reviewed, but if true it could have grave implications for the recovery of the airline industry. I’m just glad it’s actually being studied, though that would be much easier if we had legitimate contact tracing in this country.

Image of the Week: I took a look at Delta’s 10-Q and compared the fleet status at the end of June to the end of March. The active narrowbody fleet is down from 486 to 356, but widebodies are up from 63 to 68. The 737-700s and 777s will all be retired in the coming months. I found this really interesting.

Two for the road

British Airways confirms Boeing 747 retirementUKAviation.news
Of all the 747 retirements, this is the most devastating to me. I first flew a BA 747 in 1985 and I’ve been on it several times since. I have distinct memories of the upper deck as well as seat 1K. BA and the 747 are forever intertwined.

Mesa Air Group Signs Five-Year Cargo Contract with DHL Express, Will Add Boeing 737-400F Aircraft to FleetMesa Air Group
This has been rumored for a long time, but now packages get to feel like passengers on Mesa. I’m sure they’ll enjoy that.

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23 comments on “3 Links I Love: The Middle Seat Debate, A British Goodbye, Mesa Goes Big

  1. I predict, using “rough approximation”, that this paper has between a 1/4300 to 1/7700 chance of being approved by peer-review, unless all the reviewers randomly happen to have grants from the very powerful Staycation Lobby of America.

  2. Flying under contract on behalf of DHL is essentially the same business model Mesa has operated under for over 20 years,” said Jonathan Ornstein, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.


    Confirmation that they consider us self-loading cargo :)

  3. My first ever flight was on a BA 747-200 LHR-BOS. I haven’t flown on a BA 744 for many, many years, but it is still really sad to see them cut, without a proper send off.

  4. I find the “open middle seat” discussion interesting, but I don’t see it having much of a lasting effect. Sure, it will be around for the next 6-12 months, but at a certain point (6 months from now? A year or two?), new outbreaks and cases will flatten out, and more and more people will find their urge to get away and travel overcoming any fears of acquiring infections while traveling.

    Unless the economy is absolutely shredded by the virus and/or lockdown efforts (not jumping into that debate here), people and businesses will be demanding their cheap flights once travel demand picks up again (with their wallets if not their voices), and any airlines with “middle seats blocked” rules in place will respond to the market demand and loosen them, as we saw a month or two ago with some airlines.

    I find it very interesting that I haven’t heard much debate about the inability to social distance on crowded forms of public transportation for commuters (buses, light rail, and subway trains), especially as many people who use public transportation to commute can’t afford other options. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a single person infecting dozens of others on a bus, subway car, or train platform that is packed full of standees.

    1. Hi Kilroy,

      “I find it very interesting that I haven’t heard much debate about the inability to social distance on crowded forms of public transportation for commuters (buses, light rail, and subway trains), especially as many people who use public transportation to commute can’t afford other options. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a single person infecting dozens of others on a bus, subway car, or train platform that is packed full of standees.”

      In the NYC area, that debate has been raging since the outbreak began. However it was framed as
      cars good, transit bad as it most definitely spreads the virus. The problem is & continues to be a lack of scientific proof of such claims, although it feeds the anti-transit/ pro-car suburban mindset that has been instilled in most Americans for the past sixty years.

      1. > although it feeds the anti-transit/ pro-car suburban mindset that has been instilled in most Americans for the past sixty years.

        By the Census’ definition, the US population has continued to urbanize, with over 80% of Americans now living in “urban” areas. However, the Census largely treats the distinction as a binary one (urban/rural, as opposed to urban/suburban/rural), though it is clear that rural areas are losing share of population in favor of more suburban and urban areas. I’m not a sociologist, but I can see the distinction between suburb/small city being a challenge, especially when one looks at heavily populated parts of the US like Southern California or the DC/Philly/NYC/Hartford/Boston corridor, or even at the outskirts of small/medium-sized cities (think Columbus, OH, Louisville, KY, etc)… Tough to draw the line.

        In any event, I’m sure that the demographic/sociological effects of COVID-19 will provide plenty of fodder for demographers and sociologists to study and write papers on for many years to come, and it will be interesting to see what (if any) long-term effect COVID-19 has on current trends.

        1. the bigger impact on urbanization vs. suburbanization will be tax rates and the ability to work from home.
          There are people that will live in urban cities by choice but when people can work from home – which will be a greater part of the economy in the future that it was pre-covid, people will choose where the cost of living is lowest and companies will set their compensation based on where people can live, not where they have to live which is dictated by coming to a physical office in an urban center.

          Real estate data confirms that there exists a shift from urban areas to suburbs and from the north to south and that will increase as people seek the lowest cost places to live. Taxes in the north were already higher in general than in the south and that momentum will only accelerate as the bill for covid and urban protests comes due.

    2. Public transportation is certainly a concern. I wouldn’t ride a packed bus or subway (fortunately I am in a position to make that choice; I realize many others aren’t).

      One difference is that a plane ride tends to be longer, and people tend to take their masks off to eat or drink.

      On the flip side, many people who commute by public transport get exposed to more different people each and every day.

        1. To follow up, American has flown the A319 from TGU to DFW and Miami, so that should work if needed. As for EYW, that’s easy. American flies the 319 to DFW, but CRJ-700s and Embraer 170/175s can also easily make the trip. The 737-700 just isn’t necessary for Delta operationally anymore.

  5. The BA retirement is sad. I was really hoping to see the Landor 747 fly a bit more. Such a beautiful livery on the perfect plane.

  6. From what we know about catching SARS-CoV-2 is that the closer you are to someone, the more likely it is that you can catch it. Your breath will spread from your seat to the seat next to you when you aren’t wearing a mask and most people will take off their mask to eat and drink at some point during the flight. Packing airplanes with people shoulder to shoulder is more dangerous than leaving seats empty. I’m not ready to fly anytime soon, but if I do, it will be with an airline that blocks middle seats.

    1. If the current recommended separation distance by the CDC is 6 feet, blocking the middle seat is a fig leaf of protection.

      I don’t buy the argument that the filtration system on planes makes them less COVID risky. We don’t know, and it probably has never been tested, what the circulation rate is for air in various locations of a plane.

      We do know that the moment you exhale the air isn’t immediately sucked up and run through a filtration system. So it does linger for X amount of time before getting recirculated. I imagine that X is a range of values that varies wildly depending on where you are in the plane at a given time.

      So given that and given the current separation numbers (which may eventually be revised up from 6 feet), I don’t think I’d feel that much more comfortable with an empty middle seat than without one. Especially when you consider the bigger threat probably isn’t coming from the person next to you but the person behind you given that most of the time your breathing is going to be expelled out in front of you towards the next seat unless you are turned to the left or right. And I don’t know many passengers who spend the majority of their flying time in those orientations…

      1. The paper (https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.02.20143826v2.full.pdf) goes through these assumptions pretty nicely. 6 feet is not a magic number; it’s just a number at which the risk is fairly small. It’s really an exponential fall-off. As the paper says, “Chu et al (6) estimated that transmission risk given contagion is about 13% assuming direct physical contact and drops by 1?2 for each meter further apart.” So the difference between 0 and 0.5 m is a factor of 1/2; the difference between 0 and 1.0 m (ie A-C) is a factor of 1/4. 6 feet (2 m) gives you 1/16 the probability of transmission as in direct physical contact. So even 1 m separation, such as you get by leaving empty middle seats, makes an enormous difference in transmission probability; 2 m is of course much better (by another factor of 1/4).

        As the article also goes through, experience with SARS is that the risk of droplet transmission of a virus is mostly from your row, with 1/4 the probability of getting it from people in the row in front of and behind you. That seems consistent with the claim that airplane HEPA filters help significantly, though I don’t know if that’s been tested experimentally for COVID-like diseases.

        My understanding is that the air on a plane fully recirculates every two minutes or so.

  7. Even better physical distancing on could be accomplished on aircraft by staggering seating in successive rows. One row would have empty middle seats and the row behind it would have only middle seats occupied. Even more ideal would be to have an unoccupied row between those that are occupied. If my math and sense of space are right, there still isn’t full 6 foot plus distancing between passengers, even with those restrictions. But airlines also have to find ways to increase revenue. That’s why masks are important. Surgeons can’t “social distance.” That’s why they scrub thoroughly and wear masks.

    Kilroy and SEAN, in the Phoenix area (hence my “Desert” moniker), there are some general guidelines about how many passengers can occupy busses and light rail cars at a given time. People are asked to distance themselves, and masks are generally required to ride.


    1. Will that reduce the chance of death to a rough approximation of 1/2600/100? If so, I look forward to seeing offering statements for funding for this newly airline.

      1. The leading cause of death is life. One could argue that life is a risk. No one is being forced to fly. I could be wrong, but I’m guessing one’s chances of being killed in a car accident on the way to an airport are far greater than the chances of contracting Covid-19 on an airplane, especially with all of the precautions that are being taken.

    2. Hi DesertGhost ,

      Here in CT the only restrictions on transit beyond masks are sitting behind the accessible area & “if possible” social distance. They haven’t put passenger caps on vehicles unlike Phoenix or Seattle. As for Metro-North trains, when I rode last Thursday (first time in four months) social distancing wasn’t an issue as there were only a handful of passengers onboard. Keep in mind that even off-peak trains were shoulder to shoulder prior to the pandemic even on weekends.

      I know this is a cacti to oranges comparison as we’re ment to be talking about aircraft , but it’s another way at looking at how social distancing may or may not work in a transport setting.

      1. The privately operated commuter bus line in my area (nonstop service from a couple of big parking lots by the interstate to downtown big city 50 miles away, with continuing service to big city airport) has been shut down for months, with tentative plans to start in a few weeks. While most people using that particular service probably own their own cars and/or can work from home, those who don’t must be faced with some challenging decisions.

        I’m waiting to see someone do a comparison of commuter parking lots (for carpooling, commuter bus services, and for light rail stations) using satellite imagery to show the impact of the reduction in commuting.

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