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New Zealand Pilots Join IATA Call To Remove ‘Empty Middle Seat’ Policy

19 May 2020

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association (NZALPA) today announced its full support of health and safety alternatives to leaving the ‘middle seats’ empty as advocated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and announced by the QANTAS group today.

“As a safety-led organisation, we also want to ensure that our members and the travelling public can get back into the air as quickly as possible, and at an affordable cost,” NZALPA President Captain Andrew Ridling said today. 

“Critical to this is, rather than leaving valuable and much needed middle seats empty as part of social distancing measures, NZALPA instead supports the evidence-based advice of IATA’s medical professionals.  This includes the wearing of face coverings for passengers and crew while on board aircraft, in conjunction with other health measures at the departure gate.   

“Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission on board aircraft is extremely low.  NZALPA believes that the wearing of face coverings for passengers and crew will reduce this already low risk, while avoiding the possibility of dramatic cost increases to air travel with seats going empty,” said Captain Ridling.

As well as health and safety for travel on domestic routes, NZALPA is working with industry, government and its Australian counterparts towards the re-opening of the trans-Tasman aviation market. 

Media contact for interviews and further information:  Lisa-Marie Richan 027 278 0441


IATA has given several likely reasons why COVID-19, which is spread primarily by respiratory droplets, has not resulted in more on-board transmission, and is different from other modes of public transport:

  • Passengers face forward with limited face-to-face interactions
  • Seats provide a barrier to transmission forward to aft in the cabin
  • Air flow from ceiling to floor further reduces the potential for transmission forward or aft in the cabin, moreover, air flow rates are high and not conducive to droplet spread in the same way as in other indoor environments
  • High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters on modern aircraft clean cabin air to operating.


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