When travel first slowly began to open up, airlines confirmed they would put social distancing measures in place: blocking out middle seat assignments and not packing the planes to full capacity. However, United and American Airlines have now both opted out and are lifting social distancing measures on their flights, filling them to capacity—middle seats included.
Beginning today, American Airlines will lift its capacity restrictions , though they will allow passengers the option to change to an open seat, if there is one available. United Airlines is following suit.
The rationale for the change? According to the airlines, underselling flights isn’t really effective social distancing anyway. As Doug Parker, chief executive officer of American Airlines said, “Social distancing is not something we can provide very well as an airline. No airline can. You can say you’re not going to sell the middle seat, but you’re not six feet away from the person at the window or on the aisle, certainly not six feet away from the person ahead of you or behind you.” (The Centers for Disease Control aren’t exactly backing him up there, professing “substantial disappointment” with the decision.)
Both airlines affirm that they will alert passengers, in advance, if it looks like their flight will be full.
A United Airlines representative stated that most passengers are currently opting to keep their travel plans intact, although the airline will offer them a travel credit and the opportunity to rebook on a new flight as late as 24 hours before their scheduled departure.
United has also made it mandatory for passengers to complete a “Ready to Fly” checklist pertaining to their health. According to USA Today, it asks passengers to confirm that they have not had COVID-19-related symptoms in the past 14 days, been diagnosed with the virus in the past 21 days or had close contact with someone who has COVID-19 in the past 14 days.
Also, neither airline will allow passengers to fly unless they are wearing a mask.