DALLAS (AP) — American Airlines will start booking flights to full capacity next week, ending any effort to promote social distancing on its planes while the United States sets records for new reported cases of the coronavirus.
American’s move matches the policy of United Airlines but contrasts sharply with rivals that limit bookings to create space between passengers to minimize contagion.
American said Friday that it will continue to notify customers if their flight is likely to be full, and let them change flights at no extra cost. The airline said it will also let passengers change seats on the plane if there is room and if they stay in the same cabin.
Since April, American has limited bookings to about 85% of a plane’s capacity by leaving about half the middle seats open. However, the airline will start selling every seat it can beginning next Wednesday.
Delta, Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue say they block middle seats or limit capacity, with some of them promising to continue that practice through September.
United and now American, however, have taken a different approach, arguing that other steps they take — including stepped-up cleaning procedures and requiring all passengers to wear face coverings — eliminate the need to block some seats. United CEO Scott Kirby has said social distancing is impossible on planes anyway; that even with empty middle seats, people are less than six feet away from each other.
Photos and videos of full flights on American and United have drawn criticism for their lack of social distancing.
The number of confirmed new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. hit an all-time high of 40,000 on Friday, eclipsing a record set on April 24, according to Johns Hopkins University.
American is based in Fort Worth, Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott on Friday rolled back some steps the state had taken to re-open its economy.