As airlines continue to allow passengers to book middle seats on planes, new research says that leaving the middle seat empty could reduce the spread of the virus by between 23% to 57%, according to the CDC’s report released Wednesday.
"Research suggests that seating proximity on aircraft is associated with increased risk for infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19," the CDC said in the report.
In the study, conducted with Kansas State University, researchers measured how far airborne virus particles traveled inside the aircraft using mannequins that emitted aerosol inside a mock plane cabin. The study did not take vaccinations or face mask-wearing into account.
Delta is currently the only airline in the U.S. that’s continued blocking middle seats, however, it will begin to allow passengers to book them after May 1. Other airlines have justified the re-booking by suggesting that air filters on most planes are safe to travelers wearing a facemask, a federal regulation. American Airlines ended its middle seat booking ban in July, allowing flight bookings at 100% capacity while United Airlines did not limit seating on planes during the pandemic at all. Southwest Airlines started rebooking middle seats in December.
U.S. travel continues to rebound with airports across the country seeing more than 1 million travelers daily, a milestone not seen since March 2020, the Transportation Security Administration reported. And it’s unclear if airlines will go back to blocking the middle seat on planes as the industry continues to bounce back. Trade group for the largest U.S. carriers, Airlines for America, referred to a Harvard University report that found a low transmission rate of the virus on planes citing the use of preventative measures to prevent the spread like face mask requirements and cleaning protocols, the Associated Press reported.
The CDC earlier this month released new travel guidance suggesting that fully vaccinated passengers can travel safely in the U.S. without getting tested or self-quarantining. The health agency continued to urge all travelers to continue wearing masks, hand washing and social distancing.
The Associated Press contributed to this report