Eurowings plans to offer passengers a new booking option: by paying an extra fee, passengers can keep the middle seat next to them vacant. The Lufthansa (LHAB) (LHA) subsidiary reported it was testing the initiative for several weeks and stated it met an exceptionally high level of customer interest.

The German low-cost carrier has already sold more than 5000 free middle seats online, although the new booking has not been actively promoted yet, it revealed in a  statement. In order to recover reduced passenger demand due to COVID-19, the airline has decided to make the option available on all seat rows throughout the entire cabin across all of its European routes.

“The positive feedback during the test phase showed us very clearly that our guests often want more comfort and distance on board”, Jen Bischof, the CEO of Eurowings stated in the announcement.

Earlier in May 2020, the European Commission issued recommendations for air carriers in Europe to find ways for social distancing onboard based on the technical constraints of aircraft cabins, but there is no mandatory requirement to block the middle seat. 

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) claims, if airlines were required to leave their middle seats free, their maximum aircraft load factor would be 66%. Most airlines require 70% to operate profitably.

According to Bischof, as since the beginning of COVID-19 the airline‘s ultra-low-cost strategy no longer works in its home market Germany, charging extra for a guaranteed vacant middle seat could help the carrier win back the passenger confidence. Enabling customers to feel more socially distanced onboard “will become a very important product for travelling in the future”, he added.

If a passenger decides to try out the new service, the vacant seat will be blocked at the time of booking as is therefore guaranteed not to be given away otherwise. The extra payment for the new option is starting at €18 ($21) per flight.