American Airlines will be booking flights to full capacity starting from next week. The airline is ending the restriction of social distancing in all its flights. Whereas, the United States sees a surge in new cases of the coronavirus.
The airline’s step of not following social distancing is similar to that of the United Airlines policy. But differs from those rivals that are still booking limited seats to keep space between passengers to minimize the risk of catching the virus.
The pilots’ union at American Airlines said it hopes that the airline reassesses its decision. They hope that the airline plans to add more flights using grounded planes and idle crew instead.
However, the airline will be informing the customers about the flights that are full. Moreover, it will not charge any extra cost for changing the flight. The airline will also allow passengers to change seats on the plane if there is any vacant seat. But they must stay in the same cabin.
Airlines Selling Capacity
The airline was keeping half of the middle seats open since April to manage social distancing. It was operating with limited bookings to about 85%. However, the airline will be selling all the seats it can starting from next Wednesday.
Delta is capping seats at about 60% of capacity and Southwest at about 67%, both through September 30.
However, JetBlue will not book the middle seats through July 31. It will only book it if the person is traveling together with the passengers in the next seat.
United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby said it is impossible to follow social distancing on planes. Even if they leave the middle seat empty, people will still not be sitting six feet away from each other.
However, photos and videos of American and United flying with full capacity are being criticized for not following social distancing.
The airline announced the change deep into a press release. It was mostly about the measures it is taking to clean its planes and kill the virus.
“As more people continue to travel, customers may notice that flights are booked to capacity starting July 1,” American said. From Tuesday the airline will be asking its passengers if they have had COVID-19 symptoms in the last 14 days.
Concerns of the Analysts
Henry Harteveldt, a travel analyst with Atmosphere Research Group, said American “is clearly putting its profitability ahead” of the health of both passengers and its own 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.
In addition, he said, “Just because another airline is doing it doesn’t mean it’s the right business decision.”
But another expert, travel agent Brett Snyder, said American probably has data to back up its decision from a business perspective.
“If they are making this change to sell every seat, then they know that people talk a lot” about preferring empty middle seats, “but in the end, they will still fly if the price is right,” Snyder said.
Number of Passengers Increasing
American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said the airline was considering to book more seats from some time now as passenger numbers have risen. However, on Monday, the American’s traffic was the highest since March.
The airline is adding flights. Including its American Eagle regional subsidiary, the airline has scheduled 3,479 flights for July. This is a 60% jump over June but still 48% below as compared to last year July’s schedule.