American Airlines Group Inc said it would sell flights to capacity starting from July 1, abandoning caps on passenger loads that were designed to promote social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Customers still will be notified when they’re booked on crowded flights and can move their reservations at no cost, the airline said in a statement. Starting from June 30, American also will ask customers to certify that they have been free of Covid-19 symptoms for the previous 14 days.
American is ditching its restrictions on filling aircraft cabins just as the pandemic worsens in parts of the US that had largely been spared earlier this year. Those areas include states where the carrier has major operations, such as Texas, Arizona and North Carolina. American in April began holding open 50% of middle seats in economy class when possible.
“That was before we had extensive cleaning initiatives, face mask requirements and an extension of waivers for customers,” said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the Fort Worth, Texas-based airline. “That’s the reasoning we ultimately feel it’s safe and prudent to lift these restrictions as of July 1.”
The company is changing its booking policy in an industry with no consensus on how crowded flights should be.
United Airlines Holdings Inc hasn’t guaranteed to block seats. But Delta Air Lines Inc has said it would keep middle seats open through September 30. Southwest Airlines Co has committed to block middle seats unless customers are traveling together.
Days before American announced its policy change, Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker expressed doubt about any airline’s ability to allow ample space among passengers on jetliners.
“Social distancing is not something we can provide very well as an airline,” Parker said. “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 Allied Pilots Association, representing 15,000 aviators at American, said it wasn’t told in advance that the carrier was changing its policy and questioned why the airline wasn’t returning more of its parked aircraft to service to keep passengers separated.
Parker “is right that keeping social distancing on the airplane to six feet is impossible, but that doesn’t mean you surrender to it and throw the airplane out there with every seat filled,” said union spokesman Dennis Tajer.