American Airlines will resume booking flights from July 1, the company announced. The policy is similar to that of United Airlines, which ABC News reports has never blocked seats or capped the capacity of its flights. However, the approach contrasts sharply with other airlines, which continue to apply capacity limits to allow for social distancing in the plan, the number of cases of coronavirus in the United States being on the rise.
The airline industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic as the number of passengers has dropped. the Chicago Sun Times reports that at its lowest point in April, the number of American Airlines passengers had decreased by about 95%. Although passenger bookings have since increased, the number of people passing through US airports is still a quarter of what it was a year ago.
American Airlines began limiting reservations to around 85 percent of aircraft capacity in April, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
United CEO Scott Kirby questioned the possibility of social distancing on planes, Chicago Sun Times reports, since people are within six feet of each other, even when the middle seats are left empty. The Boston Globe reports that US CEO Doug Parker has expressed similar concerns. A union representative from the Allied Pilots Association, however, replied that this “does not mean that you are going there and that you are throwing the plane over there with every seat filled.”
American says it has other measures to help prevent the spread of the virus. It will inform customers if they are booked on crowded flights and give them the possibility to move their reservation at no additional cost, and upon registration, it will ask customers to certify that they have not exhibited any COVID symptoms. -19 for the last 14 days. Customers will also be allowed to move seats once on board, subject to limitations. American is implementing other protective measures such as more thorough cleaning, HEPA filters to clean the air more frequently, and a mandatory face mask requirement.
Several airlines require passengers to wear face masks. Earlier this month, a group of major American airlines – including American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue and Southwest – has made face covers mandatory for all passengers, with the exception of eating and drinking, young children or those with a medical reason or a disability preventing them from wearing a mask.
As American and United progress without capacity limits, other airlines will maintain theirs throughout the summer. Delta capped the seats at 60% in the main cabin and 50% in first class until September 30, as well as the blocking of the middle seats, ABC News reports. Southwest Airlines blocks intermediate seats for the same period, while JetBlue blocks intermediate seats until the end of July.
The announcement comes as the United States sees slight increase in new COVID-19 cases. Yesterday, COVID monitoring project says there were 42,000 new cases of the virus in the country, as a result of record three days of new cases. Although more tests explain part of the increase, the percentage of positive tests also tends to increase, according to data from John Hopkins University.
“I can’t imagine a worse time to tell passengers that the planes they could be on will be completely full,” said a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, a union representing American Airlines pilots. Chicago Sun Times, noting that this decision could damage public confidence in aviation.