Eurowings will offer passengers the option of paying extra to keep the middle seat vacant, throughout the entire cabin, on all flights within Europe, after carrying out a “successful” trial of the measure.
Lufthansa Group’s low-cost unit says it has been testing the initiative for several weeks and it has “met with an exceptionally high level of interest”. More than 5,000 free middle seats have been sold during the trial, adds the carrier. It has therefore decided to make the option available on all seat rows and across all of its European routes.
“The positive feedback during the test phase showed us very clearly that our guests often want more comfort and distance on board,” states Eurowings chief executive Jens Bischof. “Ultra-low-cost no longer works since [the Covid-19 pandemic], at least not in our home market Germany.”
Charging extra to keep the middle seat free and enable passengers to feel more socially distanced on board “will become a very important product for travel in the future”, adds Bischof.
Subject to availability, Eurowings passengers will be able to block the middle seat next to them for a fee starting at €18 ($21) per flight.
There is no mandate requiring airlines in Europe to keep the middle seat free as a means of ensuring onboard social distancing. The European Commission in May issued guidance recommending that airlines should find ways of socially distancing passengers based on the “technical constraints” of aircraft cabins, but it stopped short of requiring seats to be blocked.
IATA had warned on 21 April that the adoption of social-distancing measures on aircraft would make the economics of flying impossible. The association argued that if airlines were required to leave their middle seats free, their maximum load factor would be 66% when most carriers require 70% to operate profitably.
Charging extra for a guaranteed empty adjoining seat could help airlines win back passenger confidence while simultaneously providing carriers with an additional ancillary revenue stream.