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Help me! Where is the safest seat on an airplane?

My son is flying from Los Angeles to New York for Thanksgiving. I got him a ticket on Delta Air Lines because they’re blocking the middle seats. That said, the aircraft’s seating configuration is a 2-3-2. I have heard that window seats are the safest, but there is always a risk of someone sitting next to them. What do you recommend? Susanna

Deciding where to sit on an airplane has always been an exercise in strategy and skill: how to get the most legroom, the best eye closure, the fastest exit. The stakes certainly seem higher now.

Before we begin, a few numbers to reassure you: In the third quarter, Delta’s passenger load factor – the percentage of available seats that are occupied – fell from 88% last year to 41% this year, according to the last investor in the airline. report, which means there are a lot of incomplete flights. New data also suggests that when everyone is wearing a mask and other protocols are followed, planes – with their high-efficiency, anti-virus air filters – are less risky than grocery stores. But I’ll leave the specifics of viral scattering to scientists and try to outline some of the things your son can do to avoid sharing an armrest with a stranger.

Before the pandemic, the Boeing 767 plane your son is scheduled to fly on would have accommodated 165 economy class passengers. Delta currently has a 70 percent capacity limit in several cabins, including economy class, bringing the passenger maximum to around 115. Even on a flight where Economy class is 70 percent, around 50 seats are still available. guaranteed empty.

My original plan was to take number 115, find out the seating map on Delta.com, and figure out the likelihood of your son sitting alone when the plane fills up to 70%. This, I have learned, is a huge waste of time.

Delta, unlike many of its peers, will continue to block the middle seats until at least January 6 in an effort to separate smaller parties of one or two. Groups of three or more can reserve adjacent seats, including middle. On planes that have sections without middle seats – for example, the 2-3-2 Economy Class configuration on a 767 – other seats will be blocked as tickets are purchased and seats are selected. The more people that are seated together, the more likely it is that your son will be able to sit alone when the plane is 70% full, but there is no way to predict how many people will be flying individually, in pairs or in groups.

There are still ways to be proactive; for example, your son can use the Fly Delta app to change seats up to about an hour before boarding. Just as you can update fantasy football scores or election results, your son can be “that guy” at the door, hunched over the seat map. He can also continue to make changes with the gate attendant and (unofficially perhaps) on board.

Additionally, a Delta spokesperson said in an emailed statement, “If customers are not comfortable with where they are seated, they can be rerouted to another flight at no cost. modification or price difference.

I asked Sandra Albrecht, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and chief epidemiologist behind “Dear Pandemic,” a science communications effort on social media, if she would cancel her flight if anyone. one was seated next to her.

“Absolutely not,” she said. “As with everything related to Covid, the risk spectrum is a sliding scale. You can think of seats as something that you could slide a notch up and down a notch, but there are other things you can slide, like 10 points up or 10 points down. “

Risk tolerance and health vary, of course, so let’s get back to your question about window seats. If the goal is to sit as far away from strangers as possible, your intuition is theoretically correct.

“If you are sitting in the window seat and the aisle seat is not occupied, the closest passenger is in the center section or on the other side of the plane,” said Arnold Barnett, professor of statistics at the MIT Sloan School of Management. studied the effects of keeping the middle seats open on the likelihood of getting sick. “It’s already a distance of several meters. If everyone is wearing masks, that’s a good situation.

Even then, it is not open and closed. Suppose you’ve picked the perfect window seat and boom: a screaming baby sends an annoyed passenger scurrying off to quieter pastures – next to your son. Or a seat does not tilt, causing its occupant to move. Or the plane is 70% full and the math shows that a handful of single travelers have to sit together.

If you can’t tolerate this kind of uncertainty, sit down the hallway in the middle section – the hallway will be on one side and an empty middle seat on the other.

“The advantage is that you don’t have anyone seated next to you, so you are further away from others for a constant period of time,” said Dr Albrecht. “But you have a variety of people down the aisle, so you’ll probably have shorter interactions with a lot of different people.”

Fortunately, said Dr Barnett, when someone rubs themselves (for example, on the way to the bathroom), “it’s such a short time that you’re nearby and wearing masks.”

We can only predict and control so much, which is why experts recommend focusing on exactly that: what we can predict and control.

“We must not let the issue of seating arrangements distract us from thinking about how we can stay safe throughout the travel process,” said Dr Albrecht.

That means leaving your mask on, eating at home or at the airport, and waiting for the rush to die off before disembarking. It also means keeping a certain perspective: we are in a pandemic that has Ravaged air travel – On November 1, the number of people passing through TSA checkpoints rose to around 38% of last year’s figure, according to the agency’s ongoing tally. Even vacation travel is expected to be on the decline; airports can get busy around Thanksgiving, but the numbers are almost certain to be a fraction of what they normally are.

And because your son has been on a plane the week before – a particularly smart move every year, but especially now when the crowds are raising safety concerns – he’s likely to end up with plenty of elbow room. As I suspected, the seating plan confirms this: there is still a sea of ​​open seats at the windows.

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