United will begin notifying customers 24 hours ahead of time if their flight is going to be crowded. Customers will then have the option of rebooking or receiving a travel credit. 

The policy will last through June 30. 

The move, to go into effect next week, comes after a Twitter image of a packed United 737 drew national headlines. The tweet was posted Saturday by Ethan Weiss, a doctor flying home to San Francisco with a group of physicians and nurses who had been working for the past few weeks in New York City hospitals. 

“This is the last time I’ll be flying again for a very long time,” Weiss wrote. 

In a statement on its website, United explained that despite a 90% reduction in its schedule, 85% of its flights are still less than half full. However, a small number of flights are more crowded. 

“To make it easier for our customers to plan, we’ll do our best to contact them about 24 hours before their departure time so they can decide whether to adjust their plans before they arrive at the airport -- and we’ll provide this option at the gate, if more than 70% of customers have checked in,” the carrier said. 

In an April 29 email to customers, United chief customer officer Toby Enqvist wrote that the carrier had begun automatically blocking middle seats in order provide passengers with enough space. 

United has now backed away from that guarantee. Its website currently says that the airline has adjusted its seat-selection systems to avoid seating separate parties next to each other “where possible.”

“While we cannot guarantee that all customers will be seated next to an unoccupied seat, based on historically low travel demand and the implementation of our various social distancing measures, that is the likely outcome,” the website says.


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