Some new MIT research may give airline travelers reason to pause when it comes to filling up middle seats. Professor Arnold Barnett claims that the data he's compiled shows that your risk of contracting COVID-19 as an airline passenger increases dramatically when a plane is full. Based on his research, the chances of you contracting the virus on a flight with empty middle seats is just one in 7,700. However, the odds of catching COVID-19 increase to one in 4,300 when flying on a full plane with occupied middle seats.
Barnett's model suggests that about 140 passengers would contract COVID-19 per day in a scenario where middle seats are filled on flights where everyone is wearing masks. The number of infected travelers dips to 78 per day when middle seats are left empty. Those odds are in play in a scenario where 60,000 passengers are flying in the United States per day. Numbers released from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) show that between between 500,000 and 765,000 are flying daily in the United States this summer. Of course, Barnett's numbers are merely predictions based on the data he had available when compiling his research.
The question over filling middle seats during the COVID-19 pandemic has become a hot topic. Headlines were made last week when United's chief communications officer defended the airline's decision to keep middle seats unblocked by dismissing the act as being a 'PR strategy' instead of a valid safety measure. Airlines throughout the country seem to be divided when it comes to the question over how to handle middle seats. Both United and American Airlines officially began allowing middle seats to be occupied again earlier in the summer. However, Delta, Southwest and JetBlue are vowing to keep middle seats empty for the time being.