American Airlines has announced it will begin operating full flights on July 1 and after. It joins United which has already allowed fully sold flights.
The news comes as the US faces growing cases of COVID-19 in many states, with alarming increases in the South and West.
While both American and United notify passengers in advance if their flight has exceeded a certain capacity and allow them to reschedule, both airlines faced criticism from health experts and customers.
Americans have given up. At least the American airliners @AmericanAir and @united have on now 100% seating capacity. As a former AA Exec Plat and UA Premier 1K, but an epidemiologist first… I’m greatly saddened by this aggressive move in middle of record #COVID19 cases. https://t.co/EHI1JrPZeQ— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) June 27, 2020
.@AmericanAir I am a frequent flyer with you. I just saw in the news that you are ending social distancing and are booking flights to full capacity. Please explain how exactly you are preventing the spread of Covid-19 on your flights.— Eric Paul Leue (@EricPaulLeue) June 28, 2020
American and United require all passengers and employees to wear masks throughout flights, but social distancing is difficult on an airplane even when flights are not sold to capacity. On completely full flights, it’s impossible.
Commercial aircraft use HEPA filters to circulate air onboard, which must remove at least 99.9% of airborne particles that pass through them. But it’s still not clear exactly how the coronavirus is transmitted inside an airplane.
For the time being, air travel carries risk.
Travelers choosing to fly as the COVID-19 pandemic continues may consider the following in evaluating if and how to fly.
Choose an airline that does limit capacity on board. Other US airlines, including Delta, Frontier, JetBlue and Southwest, have on board social distancing measures in place. Delta, for example, blocks all middle seats on board and will do so through September 30.
Be flexible in your travel dates. Many airlines offer free rescheduling. American and United reportedly notify passengers once a flight exceeds a certain capacity. American Airlines passengers may reschedule flights – including departure and arrival cities – without change fees through September 30, 2020. United passengers may change or cancel new bookings through July 31, 2020 without change fees. You may also check your flight’s capacity by calling the airline, consulting a travel agent, or using a service like ExpertFlyer.
Sit as far away from other passengers as possible. Window seats furthest from other passengers are generally best. In an aisle seat, it’s almost impossible to social distance from other passengers, as both flight attendants and passengers walk up and down the aisle to reach the lavatory or to access overhead bins. Choose a window seat far from others during check-in and check with airline staff at the airport to see if seats around it remain empty prior to boarding. If necessary, consider moving to another empty window seat that’s further from other travelers once onboard. Ideally there’s at least 6 feet between you and the next passenger in all directions. Most airlines allow passengers to select a different seat in the same cabin provided the flight isn’t full.