FlySafair is the only airline in South Africa that offers customers the option to social distance from the person seated next to them by neutralising the middle seat in a row of three seats on an aircraft.
Research has indicated that neutralising the middle seat is not a significantly effective measure in actually preventing the spread of COVID-19 from one person to another as long as other important measures are being implemented. Interested customers can access that full research by clicking here.
In agreement with this, the Ministry of Transport placed no restrictions on the number of people that may board an aircraft, with the only exception that there be an empty row at the back to isolate anyone who becomes ill on board. Below is a snippet from the ministerial briefing on Saturday, 30 May 2020, where Minister Mbalula discusses the matter and explains why the rules for aircraft and taxis differ.
FlySafair, however, respects that some customers might prefer the peace of mind that could come with ensuring that the middle seat is left open anyway, and so we've made the option available to those who wish to secure it. Leaving seats open severely constrains an airline's ability to earn, and so the facility comes at a fee of R750 per person.
The product was initially in development to provide a Business Class alternative that would offer customers some extra space and privacy, but FlySafair sped up the implementation to be able to offer the product at a discounted rate in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For clarity, both parties will be required to pay the fee. The R750 charge doesn't cover the average fare that could be achieved on the empty seat, so the hope is to achieve that through having two parties pay the fee.
The HEPA filters mentioned by the Minister are highly effective at refreshing cabin air. Here are some top-line facts pertaining to those filters:
- The Filters can take out 99.995% of airborne microbes
- They filter out microbes as small as 0.1 microns – COVID19 viral particles are 0.125 – 0.14 microns
- These are the same filters used in hospital operating theatres
- Air is taken in from the vents along the floor and released downwards above passengers, meaning that airflow in vertical rather than across rows of seats.
- Air is refreshed (completely filtered) every 2-3min
- The filters are replaced regularly, but there is no point where the filter's efficiency in cleaning out particles is reduced, older filters just slow down the refresh rate.
More information on these filtration systems is available from IATA here.
The below diagram also offers a little more detail on the operation of this system:
Boarding and Disembarkation Procedure
Even though customers may sit close to the passenger next to them during flight, it is advisable to minimise the number of people each passengers comes into contact with during their journey. To this end there are social distancing measures enforced within the airport terminal and we have procedures to do the same during boarding and disembarkation.
During boarding, passengers will be boarded in smaller groups. Please maintain distance from the person ahead of you in the boarding queue and take up your seats and quickly as possible.
Our team will announce the disembarkation process during flight. We will ask that all passengers remain seated until their area is called to disembark. The first group to disembark will be those sitting in aisle seats, followed by those in middle seats and lastly those in window seats.
Families travelling together may disembark together, but we ask that adults please follow these procedures and meet up outside the aircraft again.