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Airlines Say “No” to CDC Guidance in Blocking Middle Seats

Date: April 16, 2021

A newly published report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that mask-less flyers could spread COVID-19 at a higher rate when middle seats were not blocked. Passengers on opposite ends of a three-seat row, with the middle seat open, reduced their risk of exposure by 57%, reported the study.

The top U.S. Airlines rejected the study, saying it didn’t consider the new safety procedures that have been put in place.  United didn’t comment directly, and instead deferred to Airlines for America (A4A) for a statement, which was published on Flying Together.

In contention is that the study, which was conducted in 2017 well before the COVID-19 pandemic, is modeled on a different virus and, of particular note, that the mannequins used in the study did not wear masks.  The A4A also cites the advanced air filtration systems used on our aircraft today which, in combination with mask adherence, provide for a safer environment than in many other situations.

What we learn from this is that not wearing a mask with one virus creates a much higher risk of transmission, compared to wearing a mask to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and increasing the risk for infection. The take away: the more everyone wears a mask throughout an entire flight, the safer everyone is.

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