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World airlines set for new sitting arrangement in post-restriction era

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An aircraft being sanitized. Source: BBC

• Local carrier to observe distancing onboard, keeps middle seats vacant
The coronavirus pandemic may have changed the face of social interactions, including how we travel and the sitting arrangement aboard commercial aeroplanes.

Unlike the pre-COVID-19 period, the airlines that survived the crisis may have fewer passengers onboard, or have the economy cabin passengers shielded from each other by plastic screens.

Not left out in the paradigm shift are the local airlines that are already considering new safety measures, though at an extra cost amid cash crunch.

One of the airlines, Dana Air, has disclosed plans to keep the middle seats on its entire aircraft empty upon resumption of flights in line with the social distancing guideline on Covid-19.

The Accountable Manager of Dana Air, Obi Mbanuzuo, said Dana Air would commence this initiative when flights resume, maintain it for a while and listen to the feedback from the airline’s customers.

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In the aviation space, designs have emerged for two post-coronavirus economy cabin concepts aimed at helping to prevent future pandemics.

The Janus, as one of the design is called, takes its inspiration from the ancient two-faced Roman god and has a reversed centre seat, while the other design – Glassafe concept – sees each seat fitted with a hood.

The Janus seat concept that has been designed by aircraft interior design firm Aviointeriors. The Janus concept would see the middle seat of a row placed in a reverse position, which Aviointeriors says will “ensure maximum isolation between passengers.”

The designs are by Italian firm, Aviointeriors, which has released renderings of both concepts. Aviointeriors says the Janus seat will “ensure the maximum isolation between passengers seated next to each other.”

While passengers seated on the side seats, aisle and fuselage, continue to face in the direction of travel, the passenger sitting in the centre is facing backwards.

Aviointeriors explained: “Each passenger has their own space isolated from others, even from people who walk through the aisle. Each Janus seat is surrounded on three sides by a high shield that prevents the breath propagation to occupants of adjacent seats.

“It is made of easy cleaning and safe hygienic materials. The option is available with the shield in opaque material or with different degrees of transparency.”

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Glassafe, meanwhile, is described as a ‘kit-level solution’ that can be installed on existing aircraft seats.

It would see screens installed around the top of the seats, which Aviointeriors says would make sitting in ‘close proximity safer’.

It added: “Glassafe is made of transparent material to make the entire cabin harmonious and aesthetically light, but perfectly fulfilling the objective of creating an isolated volume around the passenger.

“This is in order to avoid or minimise contacts and interactions via air between passenger and passenger, so as to reduce the probability of contamination by viruses or other.”

Aviointeriors says: “We have worked and we will continue to develop products specifically designed to make the travels of the near-future post-virus ever safer. Glassafe is supplied in various executions with fixing systems to the seat that allow easy installation and removal.”

Meanwhile, Mbanuzuo said that majority of Dana’s aircraft are configured with mainly three seats in a row, on either side of the aisle.

“So, when we resume flights anytime soon, we will keep the middle seats empty so passengers can sit on the window and aisle seats to ensure some physical distancing onboard all our flights.

“This is just to give our guests some sense of security about their health and well-being when flying with us immediately after the pandemic and it will be for some time, while we continue to review feedback from our guests on their thoughts, but we believe it is what customers might like to see.

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“Our first concern is the safety and well-being of our staff and customers. And we have made firm arrangements to ensure that our thorough cleaning and disinfection programme continues. We are taking this seriously as we do not know how long this will last,” he said.

Aviation Security Consultant, Group Capt. John Ojikutu, said compliance with Civil Aviation Health Protocol, factored into a relevant ICAO Safety Standards, Recommended Practices or Programmes designed by the state, would force a lot of changes in operations and passenger facilitation.

Ojikutu advised airlines to operate flights that are not more than one hour for the time being. And if they can manage it without affecting their operational cost, they could carry passengers in the middle seats but can suspend catering services.

“If not possible to eliminate or suspend, reduce the numbers of meeters and seers at the airports particularly for the VIPs, whatever the numbers and whoever they are, they must be made to observe same checks as the passengers.

“If possible, eliminate or suspend passengers carry-on luggage, but the hold or checked in baggage could be reduced,” Ojikutu said.

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