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Health officials criticize American Airlines for not blocking middle seats

June 30, 2020
4 min read
Health officials criticize American Airlines for not blocking middle seats
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Beginning Wednesday, American Airlines will sell its flights to full capacity as demand allows. In testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday June 30, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute of Health said they thought that was a bad plan.

"When they announced that the other day, obviously there was substantial disappointment with American Airlines," CDC director Robert Redfield told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, according to USA Today. "We don’t think it’s the right message."

Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert with the National Institute of Health also criticized the move.

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Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, aviation regulators have shied away from implementing national policies that would direct airlines' responses to the disease, so the companies have largely been left to themselves to devise and enforce onboard social distancing and public health measures.

Many carriers initially opted to block middle seats as a method of limiting capacity and proximity between passengers, along with modifying inflight service to reduce contact between travelers and crews. Those efforts have been uneven across the industry, however. United Airlines, for example, never capped capacity on any of its flights. Spirit and Allegiant, too, have been selling all seats when possible, though none of those airlines seem to have been mentioned during Tuesday's hearing.

Related: A complete guide to airline social distancing policies.

But, as demand for travel slowly rebounds, carriers have had to calculate whether to keep capacity caps in place, even as they're facing significant financial pressure.

Some, like Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue, have decided it's better to forgo some of the additional revenue and keep some seats open on every flight, but others have opted to sell more seats when possible.

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Related: Airline complaints soared 1,500% in April as flyers vented about refunds.

“You can’t employ distancing on an airplane like you can in a grocery store line," Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America, a trade group that represents major U.S. airlines, said on a call with reporters Tuesday. He added that even with blocked middle seats, there just isn't space on a plane to keep passengers completely separated throughout their journey like there would be in a large retail setting. Even so, he said, "I’d rather be on an airplane than in a grocery store.”

Related: American tries to avoid the ‘old airline playbook’ on furloughs even as it shrinks.

Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for American Airlines, defended the company's move. He said there are other procedures in place to keep travelers safe, even if every seat on their flight is occupied.

“We are unwavering in our commitment to the safety and well-being of our customers and team members. 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, as well," Feinstein said. "We know our customers are placing their trust in us to make every aspect of their journey safe, and we are committed to doing just that.”

Read more: How far can airborne COVID germs really spread on a plane?

Like American, most U.S. airlines now require their passengers to wear masks throughout every flight, and many carriers have stepped up enforcement of that rule, with some going as far as to ban noncompliant passengers from traveling with the airline again.

Ratings: Every American Airlines premium seat ranked from best to worst.

Featured image by Economy seats on American Airlines Boeing 787-8. (Photo by Katie Genter / The Points Guy)

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Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees