American Airlines Full Capacity: No Social Distancing

No concern about COVID-19?

American Airlines Full Capacity: No Social Distancing

Since April, American Airlines has been limiting its seat bookings to around 85% of an aircraft’s capacity, accomplishing this leaving approximately half the middle seats open. But starting Wednesday, July 8, 2020, American Airlines full capacity will be the driving force as it will start selling every single seat on its flights. The announcement came deep into a press release that was mostly devoted to measures it is taking to clean planes and kill the virus.

Despite the fact that the number of new COVID-19 cases in the United States has hit an all-time high of 40,000 just this past Friday, American Airlines is ending any effort to promote social distancing on its flights. American’s move is keeping in step with United Airlines and Spirit Airlines who are booking at full capacity, but not every airline agrees this is the best way to go.

Delta is capping seats at around 60% of capacity and Southwest at about 67% until September 30. JetBlue is leaving middle seats empty through July 31 unless the person is traveling with a passenger in an adjoining seat. These airlines are of the mind that creating space between passengers is the best way minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

American, like United and Spirit Airlines, argues that their stepped-up cleaning and requirement of all passengers to wear masks are enough to warrant a full-capacity flight. According to United’s CEO Scott Kirby social distancing is impossible on planes anyway and empty middle seats does not mean passengers are 6 feet apart from one another.

Spokesman for American Airlines Ross Feinstein said the airline has been considering booking to full capacity for a few weeks now because passenger numbers have risen. He said American will ask passengers to confirm that they haven’t had COVID-19 symptoms in the previous 14 days. As of this writing it is not yet clear what passengers will need to do, other than to say so, to meet this criteria

The pilots’ union for American Airlines stated that it hopes the airline will reconsider flying full flights and instead add more flights using aircraft and crews that are sitting idle. Union spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association, Dennis Tajer, said the move could hurt the public’s already fragile confidence in flying. “We were shocked. I can’t imagine a worse time to tell passengers that the airplanes they may be on will be completely full,” he said. Explaind Tajer, pilots and flight attendants must remain on the payroll through September as a condition of federal financial aid, so since American has plenty of planes that have been grounded because of the pandemic, “Why wouldn’t you just put another airplane on?”

American is notifying customers if their flight is likely to be full and will allow them to change flights at no extra cost. So far only about 4% of passengers have taken that option, according to American. The airline also said it will let passengers change seats on the plane if there is room as long as they stay within the same cabin. So, if it’s pretty full and you’re booked in economy but there are empty seats in first class, you’re still out of luck. Seems like the main priority is not social distancing and safety, but the financial bottom line.

Travel analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, Henry Harteveldt, said American “is clearly putting its profitability ahead” of the health of both passengers and its own employees, adding: “Packing an airplane 100% full without health testing in place is a risky business decision. If someone contracts the COVID-19 virus on a 100% full plane, they’re going to sue American Airlines. Just because another airline is doing it doesn’t mean it’s the right business decision.”

Travel agent Brett Snyder who also write a blog named Cranky Flier is of a different opinion. According to Snyder, most people flying now are leisure travelers who have decided for themselves that it’s an acceptable risk. He said rules on face masks, extra cleaning measures, and high-efficiency air-filtration systems make airplanes “a relatively safe place.” Snyder said American probably has data to back up its decision from a business perspective. “If they are making this change to sell every seat, then they know that people talk a lot; but in the end they will still fly if the price is right.”

In a different approach, Frontier Airlines had tried to charge passengers extra to guarantee they would be next to an empty middle seat, but the budget airline was forced to retreat last month as it faced accusations that it was trying to profit from people’s fear of contracting a deadly virus.


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