You know how we’re in the middle of a pandemic that’s taken the lives of over 120,000 Americans, and whose first wave is spiking again? And how one of the simplest and most crucial precautions we can take to prevent spread is by maintaining physical distance between each other? And how, in order to keep passengers spread out, airlines like American and Delta have been keeping flights below capacity for the last few months? I’m asking because it’s important to know all that. It’s the context for the news that American announced last night, which is that, as of July 1, American will no longer be limiting capacity on its flights.
Currently American books its planes to about 85% of their total capacity. About half of the middle seats of the main cabin are sold for flights right now, and presumably those are filled by parties who are traveling together and thus already regularly exposed to each other. As of next week, though, American’s going to stop doing that. There will be no caps on how many seats can be sold for any flight. They will notify passengers in advance if a flight is full, and give them the option of switching to a less crowded flight, if one is available, but otherwise it’s back to the glory days of packing as many people into that metal tube as possible. Despite the fact that the U.S. has set its single-day record for new COVID cases twice in the last three days, and despite the fact that cases are rising in over 30 states, American’s ditching its attempts at distancing passengers. In doing so they’ll join United Airlines in not limiting capacity. Delta, who revealed earlier this week that over 500 of its employees have been diagnosed with the coronavirus during the pandemic, will continue to limit capacity on its flights.
The pandemic has had a devastating impact upon the travel industry, obviously. Airlines have had to cut back on the number of flights and routes they run, with international flights being hit especially hard. Just yesterday it was reported that the European Union will bar American travelers from entry due to our inability to contain the spread of the coronavirus; that news came out on the same day that airline executives met with Vice President Pence yesterday to discuss their recovery.
If you think scrapping the capacity limits as the virus continues to surge doesn’t make much sense, you aren’t alone. According to Investor’s Business Daily, Dennis Tajer of the Allied Pilots Union is “stunned, shocked” at the news. His suggestion to airlines? “Fly more airplanes.”
It’s hard to see how this decision won’t put everybody on these flights at greater risk. Will that register with the American public, though? Clearly a large portion of this country isn’t overly concerned about the coronavirus anymore, or else we wouldn’t be seeing all these photos and news footage of people at bars and restaurants without masks on. We wouldn’t be seeing this latest spike if people were still taking this seriously. As dangerous as American’s decision seems, maybe they’re just giving the people what they want—health and safety be damned.