Expect to see even more jam-packed flights on American Airlines starting next month.
The airline quietly announced Friday it would begin selling flights to full capacity as of July 1. That will end its practice of blocking about half of the middle seats on flights that started this spring.
Instead, American will just continue notifying passengers when an upcoming flight is looking full – allowing them to change to a flight with more open flights for free if one is available. American is also adding some new safety measures, including requiring travelers to certify they have not experienced coronavirus symptoms within the last two weeks.
Check out this full American Airlines flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Los Angeles. 😐 AA’s mandatory mask requirement went into effect May 11. This flight was on May 7. Smh. pic.twitter.com/2xbtxQQu27
— Erica Simon (@EricaOnABC13) May 13, 2020
How Airlines Are Handling Social Distancing & Safety
Just what you'll find flying in the U.S. these days depends on what airline you choose. Some airlines are going much farther than others to increase safety and make travelers feel safer.
Delta has made a big bet on safety, blocking all middle seats until Sept. 30, boarding from back to front, and emphasizing its cleaning procedures. Southwest is capping ticket sales to leave empty seats on each flight through Sept. 30, while Alaska Airlines is also blocking middle seats through July.
To be clear, social distancing on a plane is impossible. An empty middle seat doesn't give you anywhere near six feet from your nearest neighbor. And it's likely a temporary solution to make flyers feel safer while travel demand is low.
American Airlines never went as far as some of its competitors – the airline only blocked about half of middle seats from purchase on flights. Even then, some flights still wound up completely full or close to it.
And other carriers did even less. Despite initially promising to give passengers an empty middle seat, United still sold flights to capacity. So did Spirit and other budget airlines.
Back in April, American CEO Doug Parker hinted that empty middle seats wouldn't stick around forever. He said the emphasis would shift toward wearing face masks.
“It will continue to evolve over time. Today, what we’re seeing is much more of a push toward facial coverings to give customers a level of comfort,” Parker said.
And that's exactly what American has done. As it moves away from keeping seats empty, American (and all other major U.S. carriers) have threatened to ban travelers who don't wear masks. American made good on that promise after booting a GOP activist from a flight after refusing to wear a mask – that man is now temporarily banned.
While other airlines bet on emphasizing safety to win customers back, American is betting that selling as many tickets as it can is the key to getting ahead of competitors and digging out of the coronavirus crisis.
Will it work? Or will travelers turn on American as images of full flights become even more common?