Starting July 1, American Airlines will join Spirit and United airlines in booking flights to their full capacity. Since April, American Airlines has limited flights to about 80% of their plane’s capacity by leaving middle economy seats open.
In a statement, American Airlines said, “As more people continue to travel, customers may notice that flights are booked to capacity starting July 1. American will continue to notify customers and allow them to move to more open flights when available, all without incurring any cost.”
Not everyone agrees with the airlines’ decision to move away from having some type of social distancing measure in play. The pilots’ union at American Airlines are hoping that American will add more flights by utilizing idle planes and flight crews.
American Airlines, along with Spirit and United, says they’ll step-up their cleaning procedures, and require all passengers to wear face coverings to eliminate the need to blackout their seating options.
Scott Kirby, United Airlines CEO, says that proper social distancing is impossible on planes, and even with having empty middle seats, people are still less than six feet away from each other.
In early May, United Airlines was under heavy scrutiny when a doctor returning from volunteering at a New York hospital posted a picture of his United flight that was fuller than he expected on social media. In response to the viral photo, United said it would do its “its best” to notify passengers 24 hours before departure if their flight is going to be more than 70% full and offer rebooking options. United spokesman Charles Hobart said, “very few” customers have rebooked.
A travel analyst with the Atmosphere Research Group, Henry Harteveldt, believes American Airlines “is clearly putting its profitability ahead” of the health of both passengers and their employees.
“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,” Harteveldt said. “Just because another airline is doing it doesn’t mean it’s the right business decision.”
Ross Feinstein, the American Airlines spokesman, has said the airline’s decision comes after they say more people are beginning to travel. “We believe it is safe to go back to our normal capacity,” Feinstein said, while also noting that once a passenger is seated on their flight, they’ll be allowed to move to an open seat in the same cabin if they’re uncomfortable with their seating.