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France will not force social distancing on airlines

France will not force airlines to impose social distancing measures on board, the junior transport minister has said, leaving companies free to set their own precautions as flight schedules restart post-confinement.

Junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari confirmed the decision on radio network RTL on Sunday (May 10).

This means that rules such as leaving one metre between passengers, or removing the middle seat on passenger rows will not be enforced by national law.

The decision from the French government is in contrast to rules of other forms of transport in France - including trains, Métro lines, taxis, and ride-sharing cars (such as Uber) - which now require passengers to wear a mask at all times, and to maintain social distancing and hygiene methods as much as possible.

Read more: Cameras on Paris Metro to check on masks

Read more: France deconfinement May 11: What is allowed or not?

Read more: End of lockdown in France: travel rules

Social distancing costs

The news comes after some airlines said that forcing them to impose social distancing rules - such as taking out all the middle seats from passenger seat rows - would be impractical.

Last week (May 5), international travel federation IATA (International Air Transport Association) - which comprises 290 member airlines - warned that plane ticket costs could rise by as much as 54% if social distancing measures were required on aircraft.

In a statement, it said that measures such as removing the middle seat on planes would see the maximum occupation of a plane drop “by 62%, well below the viability threshold [of a flight] of 77%”.

It warned that pane ticket prices could “rise by 43 to 54%, depending on region, just to cover costs”.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary also said this week that the idea of leaving middle seats empty was “idiotic”, as “the business only functions when we can sell most of the seats on most of the flights”.

He said: “We accept in July and August that the load factors will be lower than that, but we don't need social distancing.

"In fact the government has already recommended that where social distancing isn't possible, wear face masks. That is the effective measure against the spread of Covid-19, not the ineffective measures like a 14-day isolation that nobody will observe anyway.”

Ryanair is also asking passengers not to queue for the toilets, to wear masks, to bring less luggage, to check in online, use contactless payments instead of cash, and have their boarding passes on their smartphones.

It said it would also support and introduce temperature checks of passengers at the airport.


Air France precautions

National carrier Air France has this week introduced “non-contact infrared thermometers” to test passengers’ temperature before boarding. Passengers with a temperature of 38°C or above may not be permitted to board.

In a press release, Air France said: “Tests will be gradually introduced at the start of most flights operated by Air France from May 11...using a non-contact thermometer method.”

People who are refused boarding will be able to change their ticket free of charge for a later journey.

Air France has also said that it will require all passengers and crew to wear masks, and said that passengers will be invited to bring and wear their own masks before travelling.

It also said: “We will enable social distancing on board whenever possible. On most flights, the current low occupancy levels will allow us to space out clients.”

When this is not possible, wearing a mask will be enough to “guarantee adequate health protection”, it said.

The planes and passenger areas will also receive deep cleaning and disinfection - including around high-traffic areas such as the toilets, seats, overhead cabin handles, and touch screen televisions in seats - it said.

Food and drink service will be removed from domestic and short-haul flights, and on long-haul flights, it will be “limited”, Air France said.

The company added that its planes are fitted with an air recycling system that renews the cabin air every three minutes, and filters out viruses such as coronavirus.

These HEPA filters are “identical to those used in operating theatres...and extract 99.99% of the smallest viruses, including those no larger than 0.01 micrometres”, it said. This is sufficient to filter out coronaviruses, as they have a size of 0.08-0.16 micrometres, Air France added.

Travel federation IATA has also said that there is a “low risk” of spreading the virus on-board.

It said that it had examined cases of 1,100 passengers who had been confirmed as infected with Covid-19 after taking a plane journey, and said that there were no cases found of people having spread the virus through the 100,000 other passengers on the same planes - and there were only two potential cases detected amongst the cabin crew in the same study.

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