American Airlines’ (AA) recent announcement that it’s ending its middle-seat-blocking practices (implemented temporarily amid COVID-19) beginning July 1 has drawn direct criticism from the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), virologist Robert Redfield, M.D.
During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing held today, Redfield admonished, “We don’t think it’s the right message.”
In response to a question raised by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders about AA’s policy change, which will enable flights to be filled to 100-percent capacity, Redfield said, “obviously there was substantial disappointment.”
Seated next to Redfield, Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s foremost immunologist and a prominent member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, also responded to the query, saying, “Obviously, that is something that is of concern,”
United Airlines is another major U.S. carrier that won’t be blocking seats, with its CEO, Scott Kirby, having already declared his view that social distancing is impossible inside a plane cabin and, presumably, that a few extra feet won’t make a difference.
But, Delta is continuing its seat-blocking practices and capping the sale of flights at 60 percent capacity in economy cabins through September and Southwest has also pledged to block one-third of its seats through September. Alaska Airlines and JetBlue plan to carry on blocking middle seats through the month of July.
AA opined that the various anti-COVID-19 measures that it has put in place since the start of the pandemic will provide adequate protection for passengers and crew, although without having cited any scientific basis for its reasoning.
The airline said, “We have multiple layers of protection in place for those who fly with us, including required face coverings, enhanced cleaning procedures, and a pre-flight COVID-19 symptom checklist—and we’re providing additional flexibility for customers to change their travel plans,” reported Travel Weekly.
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