If socially-distanced air travel is important to you, Emirates is letting its customers book empty seats that are right beside them for an additional cost.
The Dubai-based airline announced the offering is available for Economy Class customers who already hold a “confirmed booking” in a press release issued Monday, March 1. These customers will only be allowed to book the empty seats at an airport check-in counter if it is available.
“Customers will not be able to pre-book empty seats, as these are subject to availability,” the airline’s release says.
If the empty seats are available for booking at check-in, it will cost anywhere between $55 and $165 per seat, plus tax.
Emirates says this new seat-booking option has been introduced based on customer feedback, which has reportedly been focused on “seeking extra privacy and space.”
This seating option also comes eight months after executives at the airline said blocking middle seats free of charge for social distancing would be an unreasonable business move.
“All this talk about social distancing inside the aircraft is nice,” Emirates Head of Corporate Communications Boutros Boutros, said at a business conference in Dubai in July, according to NDTV. “The economy of the aircraft is built on filling it, filling the seats,” he said. “Having the space (empty) I don’t think is going to be an option unless the passenger is willing to pay.”
Emirates isn’t the only airline that has thought of charging customers who want to keep the seats next to them empty.
In early May, Frontier Airlines introduced a “More Room” seat option that would charge customers at least $39 to block middle seats, but the business strategy was quickly scrapped after the airline faced strong criticism over the money-making idea.
Air travel remains a top concern as the coronavirus pandemic nears its one-year mark.
More than 114.3 million people have been infected by the potentially deadly respiratory virus, according to data from the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Dashboard.
In the U.S. there have been more than 28.6 million people who have tested positive for coronavirus versus the United Arab Emirates’ 394,050 confirmed infections.
Despite vaccine distribution efforts, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is still advising Americans to avoid non-essential travel or take multiple precautions when traveling, including wearing a mask, social distancing, avoiding crowds and more.