Some passengers will arrive at the airport and find their flight is too full to allow for the neighboring seat to remain empty, according to data from a US airline industry group.
However, the group, Airlines for America, maintains that the vast majority of flights continue to allow for many open seats, even as the average number of passengers on each plane is growing.
About 8.5% of flights are more than 70% full, according to the group Airlines for America.
That means about 482 daily flights are above the 70% mark. The group said US carriers are currently conducting about 5,670 passenger flights daily — even after slashing thousands of flights from their schedules.
Why this matters: The 70% mark is significant because on narrow body aircraft where most seats are in groups of 3, social distancing typically means using only two thirds of seats, or 67%. When factoring in other types of aircraft and different seating arrangements, the International Air Transport Association says social distancing would mean using a maximum of 62% of seats fleet-wide.
There is no federal standard requiring airlines to leave empty seats and allow customers to socially distance, and the Department of Transportation recently instructed airlines that “if the passenger wishes to change or cancel due to concerns related to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” the customer is not entitled to a refund or voucher.
Here's how flight capacity breaks down:
- 3% of flights flew 80-89% full
- 5% of flights flew 70-79% full
- 6% of flights flew 60-69% full
- 12% of flights flew 50-59% full
In January and February, the average flight carried between 85 to 100 passengers. Now, the average flight carries about 39 passengers. That number has climbed significantly from as low as 10 passengers per flight in April and 23 passengers per flight in early May.