American, United Airlines end social distancing, book flights to full capacity

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‘I can’t imagine a worse time to tell passengers that the airplanes they may be on will be completely full,’ a pilots union spokesman said.

American Airlines will begin booking flights at full capacity starting late June, ending any effort to encourage social distancing on its planes just as the United States sets daily records for new reported cases of the coronavirus.

American’s dangerous move matches the policy choice of United Airlines, however agressively goes against rivals that continue limiting bookings to allow extra space between passengers and minimize the risk of contagion.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, said:

American “is clearly putting its profitability ahead” of the health of passengers and its own employees.

“Packing an airplane 100% full without health testing in place is a risky business decision,” Harteveldt said.

“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.”

Since April, American has practiced limited bookings at about 85% of a plane’s capacity by leaving about half the middle seats open.

Now, starting Wednesday June 24, the airline will start selling every seat it can.

“I can’t imagine a worse time to tell passengers that the airplanes they may be on will be completely full,” said the union spokesman, Dennis Tajer.

The pilots’ union is hoping the airline reconsiders.

American said it will continue to notify customers if their flights are likely to be full and offer to change flights at no extra cost.

In addition they will let passengers change seats on the plane if there is room in the same cabin.