Blocking Middle Seats Cuts Virus Spread Almost In Half Says MIT Study


An MIT study says blocking the middle seat in airliners cuts the risk of transmission of the coronavirus by almost half. Forbes is reporting that the MIT paper, which has not been peer reviewed, says the chance of getting the virus on a packed airplane is about one in 4300 but keeping the middle seats empty cuts that to one in 7700. The author of the study, Arnold Barnett, admits his probe amounts to a “rough approximation” of the comparative risk factors but said it’s better than the “unsubstantiated conjectures” airline executives use to support their decisions to fly their airliners full again.

Turns out Barnett’s formula for guesstimating the risk involves a lot of math that is incomprehensible to most of us (𝑄 ≈ (𝑁+ ∗ ( 10) ∗ /32 ∗ /12)/𝑁565 = 3.75𝑁+/𝑁565 42) and assumes that everyone is wearing a mask. Two weeks ago, several major airlines announced they would end seating policies aimed at providing some level of social distancing, generally basing the decision on the premise that it’s impossible to do on an airliner. So far American, Spirit and United are planning to fill their planes. Delta, jetBlue and Southwest are keeping their middle seats empty, at least for the time being.

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  1. “Masks are just for health care workers – you don’t need to wear a mask.”

    “Masks don’t prevent you from getting the disease; they prevent tou from spreading the disease.”

    “Everyone should wear a mask.”

    “Everyone should social distance by six feet.”

    “Aerosols travel twelve feet or more.”

    “Airliners’ air-handling systems make it virtually impossible to contract covid via airborne transmission.”

    “MIT study says blocking middle seats cuts risk of transmission almost in half.”

    Is it any wonder that “experts” are not trusted?

    • Yeah, but what’s the alternative? Just saying to heck with what “experts” are saying and going back to doing things the way we used to doesn’t sound like it’s working out to well either.

    • So what I’m getting from your random assortment of unattributed quotes is that, according to you:

      1. Scientists, epidemiologists, doctors, and engineers should immediately know absolutely everything about a brand new, never-before-seen virus the moment it is identified, and any information provided should be correct and true forever with no exceptions or amendments. Evolving evidence is not a thing that happens.
      2. Any recommendation made for protection against the virus should provide 100% protection in all situations because using multiple partly effective protections is confusing and stupid.
      3. Everyone who calls themselves an expert is, in fact, an expert, regardless of qualifications, and when their recommendations disagree with another self-declared expert, it automatically invalidates both their recommendations.
      4. Risk can and should be completely eliminated from any situation.

      Is that about right?

    • Agree with him or not, Tom is right about the premature and ad hoc way the scientific community and the government have dispensed wisdom during the crisis. If nothing else, it shows how unprepared we were for a pandemic.

  2. ” If nothing else, it shows how unprepared we were for a pandemic.”

    Ah, the fricking elephant in the room again. I notice no quotes were cited on injecting bleach, blaming China, Pence’s abject failure to lead, 600 self-congratulations and falsehoods about Covid, blaming governors, Obama, Dems, STILL inadequate testing and contact tracing, and projecting a stunning lack of humanity and compassion for others’ suffering – and on and on to the extent of deliberate confusion and obstruction concerning this pandemic. Half the country listens to this dangerous man-child, so put the blame if you must on them, not the scientists.

    Scientists the world over have struggled with how to handle this virus, and still do. America fell dangerously behind because of government incompetency and interference from the top. It will be a few short days before Dr. Fauci is fired, being made to look like a lying, incompetent fool by this clown.

    We were prepared as best as could be and had a baseline to work from:

    Nice to see Yars having sympathy and compassion for those who cannot discriminate information on their own or know who to trust. Looking out for the less fortunate among us.

    • Like I said, we’re *still* unprepared for this pandemic. And we will remain unprepared until we have true leadership from the top down. Or at least leadership that doesn’t outright ignore the experts (even if they can be wrong at times – see below).

      Yars and I often disagree, but in this case, I do actually agree with what he’s saying. It was supposed experts that said those things. Sometimes the same experts (CDC) said contradictory things. It’s when experts state conjecture as fact (or at least say it in such a way that it comes across as fact, without making it clear that it’s not) when said experts can lose the public’s trust. Words *do* matter. So it makes perfect sense why there is now distrust of these experts.

      • When my doc went through several meds for a condition I live with to find the most effective one I understood the difficulty and art of the process.

        What some are unable to see is that they’re defending the group (a minority according to polls) of Americans who are unable to understand and be patient about something like a rare, unknown and potentially deadly virus that ALL of the best minds the world over struggled with – and are still struggling with.

        This angry demand for clarity from people who lack abilities for discrimination, patience and self-trust is nothing more than a political statement used as an excuse for their own lack of maturity and personal development. Actually, words don’t matter nearly as much as perspective and understanding.

        So it makes no sense to distrust experts who are working to find well-reasoned and scientific answers. The lack of trust is merely a pathetic excuse for not doing the hard work of self-responsibility.

        • The lack of trust is because the experts aren’t making sure that they are uncertain. Stating a guess (even if it’s an expert educated guess) as a fact undermines one’s credibility.

          The worst thing I can do as an instructor is to make up an answer when I don’t know if it’s correct or not. I can say “I don’t know for sure, but here’s what I think the answer is”, which now clarifies my uncertainty without sacrificing my credibility. If I instead say “the answer is X” and it was later found out that I was wrong without correcting myself, I just lost all of my credibility. So yes, words really do matter.

  3. It will be interesting to see if Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue can still make a profit without selling middle seats, especially if they raise fares to make up for lost revenue. If they do raise fares, it will be even more interesting to see which airline passengers select, the one with higher fare to make up for empty center seats, and social distancing, or the cheaper rates with a completely full airplane.

    • Great question, Matt.

      The pinacle of isolation is a personal aircraft – charter or owner-flown.
      Somewhere between that (not an option for all) and a 16-inch-wide seat in steerage, with 500 of your closest friends, lies one’s contemporary travel fate.

      Breve New World.

  4. “An MIT study says blocking the middle seat in airliners cuts the risk of transmission of the coronavirus by almost half.”
    I’ll bet if you block all of the seats you could completely eliminate all risk of transmission except for some peripheral risk within the cockpit.🤓