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Montreal, Canada - As the aviation industry suffers from the current near-total grounding of passenger planes, analysts predict that airlines will have to embrace higher costs when things are back to normal, which will inevitably be reflected on the airfares.

Alexandre de Juniac, director-general and chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), has warned that when aviation restarts at scale, governments, and health authorities will impose strict new rules intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Two new concepts have entered the aviation vocabulary: “de-densification” and “neutralization”. The first describes reducing passenger numbers in an attempt to maintain social distancing within the cramped confines of a passenger jet; the second is the process of specifying seats that must remain unoccupied.

"De-densification, if it is requested by the civil aviation and the health authority, will be by neutralizing one seat in each row among the two rows of seats of short-haul aircraft,”

De Juniac said.

On a Ryanair aircraft normally holding 189 passengers, with the middle seats unoccupied, only 126 would be allowed on board.

”That is a complete shift of the business model of airlines operating short-haul aircraft,”

said the IATA boss.

If airlines are required to cut passenger numbers by one-third, all else being equal, fares would rise by 50 percent. But the exact increase would depend on supply and demand – with carriers likely to reduce their capacity in the expectation of slow growth.

The US carrier Alaska Airlines is already implementing its own de-densification process, by blocking out middle seats on larger aircraft, and aisle seats on smaller planes.

 “If you’re uncomfortable with the distance between you and others on your day of the flight, we’ll rebook you on another flight or provide a refund,”

The carrier also says.

The CAA guidelines specify that the aircraft toilets must be cleaned after they have been used 10 times. Airlines cannot sell the last three rows of seats on international flights, which must be “reserved as a quarantine area for handling possible in-flight emergencies”.

 “The rear lavatory on the right side should be designated for the exclusive use by those under quarantine,” the guidelines add.

One flight attendant will be assigned to look after the passenger and should refrain from close contact with other crew members. Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) has put in place working requirements aimed at preventing imported cases and domestic relapse for flights to and within the People’s Republic of China.
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