Airplane seating assignment problem

John A. Pavlik, Ian G. Ludden, Sheldon H. Jacobson, Edward C. Sewell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, began infecting humans in late 2019 and has since spread to over 57 million people and caused over 1.75 million deaths, as of December 27, 2020. In response to reduced demand and travel restrictions as a result of COVID-19, airlines experienced a 94% reduction in passenger capacity worldwide in April and an estimated 60% reduction in passengers transported for all of 2020. SARS-CoV-2 has been shown to spread on airplanes by infected passengers, so minimizing the risk of secondary infections aboard aircraft may save lives. We present the airplane seating assignment problem (ASAP) to minimize transmission risks on airplanes, and we provide two models to solve ASAP. We show that both models can be effectively solved using a standard commercial solver and that seating assignments provided by these models have lower aggregate risk than the strategy of blocking the middle seats, given the same number of passengers. The available risk models for aircraft are based on influenza data, and hence risk models based on SARS-CoV-2 should be developed to maximize the benefits of our research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalService Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • Air travel
  • COVID-19
  • Discrete optimization
  • Public health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Modeling and Simulation
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Marketing


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