CDC director says airlines shouldn’t allow full planes

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CDC director says airlines shouldn’t allow full planes
Photo Credit: CatwalkPhotos/Shutterstock

American Airlines’ decision to end seat blocking has elicited criticism from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s director.

“We don’t think it’s the right message,” Robert Redfield said during testimony before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Tuesday. 

American has been blocking approximately half of its middle seats during the Covid-19 pandemic, but that policy comes to an end on June 30. The carrier said it will continue informing customers approximately 24 hours ahead of time if their flight will be full and will allow customers to move to more open flights when such flights are available. 

United Airlines also isn’t blocking seats. 

Responding to a question from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) about AA’s decision to allow full planes, Redfield said that “obviously there was substantial disappointment.” He noted that other airlines chose to continue blocking middle seats.

Sitting next to Redfield, Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed similar sentiments about American Airlines’ policy change. 

“Obviously, that is something that is of concern,” said Fauci, a prominent member of the Trump administration's White House Coronavirus Task Force.

U.S. airlines are taking different approaches to blocking seats. Delta has capped sales at 60% in economy cabins through September and Southwest is blocking one-third of its seats, also through September. JetBlue and Alaska have blocked middle seats through July. 

In a statement, American said that it is unwavering in its commitment to the well-being of its customers and employees. 

“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,” the carrier said.

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