New research by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is revealing that airlines can significantly reduce the risk of passengers being exposed to coronavirus by leaving an empty seat between passengers.
According to the document, quoted by several North American news outlets, the CDC concludes that leaving the middle seat unoccupied on flights reduces the risk of exposure to coronavirus by 23 to 57 percent, compared to a fully occupied flight.
The New York Times reported that the research analyzed and modeled how spray viral particles spread through a simulated airplane cabin.
Farther out is always better in terms of exposure. It’s true on airplanes, it’s true in movie theaters, it’s true in restaurants, it’s true everywhereByron Jones, co-author of the study
The criticism that the research has received, however, is that the study may have overestimated the benefits of empty middle seats because it did not take into account the use of masks by passengers.
I’m surprised to see this analysis come out now, making a big statement that middle seats should stay open as a risk-reduction approach, when the model didn’t include the impact of masking. We know that masking is the single most effective measure at reducing emissions of respiratory aerosols.Joseph Allen, ventilation expert at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
It is important to note that the reduction in risk stemmed from both an increased distance between an infectious passenger and others, as well as from reducing the total number of people in the cabin. The latter would also be reducing the odds of an infected person boarding a plane in the first place. “The extent to which exposure reduction might decrease transmission risk is not yet fully understood,” a CDC spokesperson said.