SYDNEY, May 19 (Reuters) - Qantas Airways Ltd said on Tuesday it would introduce new measures on board such as providing masks and cleaning wipes to ensure safe travel and give passengers peace of mind during the pandemic but it would not leave middle seats empty.
Catering will be simplified, aircraft cleaning will be stepped up and passengers will be asked to limit movement around the cabin once seated as part of the new measures to be put in place from June 12, the airline said.
Masks will not be mandatory but Qantas will recommend that passengers wear them in the interest of everyone’s peace of mind, it said.
Qantas Group Medical Director Dr Ian Hosegood said social distancing, such as leaving the middle seat empty, was not practical on board, and the airline did not believe it was needed given the low transmission risk.
“The data shows that actual risk of catching coronavirus on an aircraft is already extremely low,” he said. “That’s due to a combination of factors, including the cabin air filtration system, the fact people don’t sit face-to-face and the high backs of aircraft seats acting as a physical barrier.”
His comments come as jet manufacturers and airlines are launching an urgent initiative to convince nervous travellers that the air they breathe on planes is safe, believing this is critical to rebuilding the travel industry.
Qantas has grounded all of its international flights until at least the end of July with the exception of government charters, but it expects domestic demand could start picking up sooner as restrictions ease.
Australia’s states and territories are beginning to allow more public activity under a three-step government plan after two months of shutdowns that officials have credited with keeping the country’s exposure to the pandemic relatively low.
Australia has reported 99 COVID-19 deaths from 7,060 infections.
Qantas said 98% of its frequent flyers are planning their next trip once restrictions lift.
Reporting by Jamie Freed; Editing by Stephen Coates