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Middle seats and packed planes are coming back as airlines prepare to ease restrictions

June 29, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Passengers are welcomed on a Corendon plane departing from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport to Bulgaria's Burgas airport, on June 26, 2020, on the first holiday flight by the travel company since the novel coronavirus in March. (Photo by Jeffrey GROENEWEG / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT (Photo by JEFFREY GROENEWEG/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

American Airlines, the world's largest carrier disclosed Friday that "customers may notice that flights are booked to capacity starting July 1." This change comes even as the number of Covid-19 cases rises in many states.

The empty seats had been a result of low demand for air travel combined with airline policy meant to encourage people to feel safe about flying.

It's not clear whether airlines will lose reluctant passengers by deciding to sell the middle seat said Philip Baggaley, chief airline credit analyst for Standard & Poor's.

"But if the recovery in flying continues, there is a greater risk that you are scaring away a more material number of passengers by selling middle seats," he added.

Airlines elsewhere in the world have not put policies in place that have left seats empty, said John Grant, aviation analyst with tracking service OAG.

The problem for the airlines is that during normal times they need to sell somewhere between 60% and 73% of seats just to break even, Grant said, depending on their cost structure.

"People didn't like middle seats before and they like them even less now," said Stephen Beck, managing partner of cg42, a management consultant who has advised airlines.

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