After announcing the biggest loss in its history Thursday, Southwest Airlines said it plans to unblock middle seats and allow flights to operate at full capacity over the holidays, starting Dec 1. The airline said studies show people are highly unlikely to get infected with the coronavirus on a flight as long as everybody is wearing a mask, NBC reports. The airline cited an International Air Transport Association study that found 44 cases of coronavirus linked to air travel. "That’s 44 people out of the nearly 1.2 billion passengers who have traveled in 2020, or one case for every 27 million travelers this year," Southwest said. "As IATA suggests, this is approximately the same risk category as being struck by lightning."
The airline, which estimated leaving middle seats empty will cost it up to $60 million in November, said other studies had found airflow systems made planes safer than other indoor environments. "This practice of effectively keeping middle seats open bridged us from the early days of the pandemic, when we had little knowledge about the behavior of the virus, to now," Southwest said. It said it would notify passengers ahead of time if more than 65% of seats on a flight were sold. The airline said it had lost $1.2 billion in the quarter ending Sept. 30, but it is "encouraged by modest improvements in leisure passenger traffic trends." United and American Airlines stopped limiting capacity months ago, while Delta plans to keep limits in place until next year, CNN reports. (Read more Southwest Airlines stories.)