‘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.
Delta says it is capping seats at about 60% of capacity.
Southwest continues to cap seats at about 67%.
JetBlue says it will leave middle seats empty through July 31 unless the person is traveling with a passenger in an adjoining seat.
United, Spirit Airlines and now American, however, are taking a different approach
They argue their other preventative steps — including heightened cleaning procedures and requiring all passengers to wear face coverings — eliminate the need to block seats.
United CEO Scott Kirby has said social distancing is impossible on planes; that even with empty middle seats, people are less than six feet away from each other.
Confirmed new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. hit an all-time high of 40,000 this week.
Many of American’s busiest airports are located in states with skyrocketing infection rates, including Texas, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.
Travel agent Brett Snyder, who writes a website called Cranky Flier, said American made its decision from a business perspective.
Snyder says most people travelling now are leisure flyers who have decided it’s an acceptable risk.
Airlines have been devastated by the pandemic.
Travel dropped by about 95% at its low point in April. Since then, traffic has picked up slightly — 77% lower than the comparable day a year ago.