American Airlines Criticism Over Packed Flights

In the last two months, social distancing onboard aircraft has become a big deal for many passengers. However, airlines have struggled to balance this with attempting to turn a profit where possible. Some have chosen to block out middle seats automatically while others have done it “where possible.” In recent days, American Airlines has come under fire for operating packed flights with limited room for social distancing.

Some passengers expressed concerns over social distancing on a relatively full AA flight. Photo: Airbus

Packed flight causes controversy

Over the past week, Twitter users have indicated that some of their flights have gone out packed with limited room for social distancing. Here is one feed:

However, the crew did seek to keep passengers away from the galley by blocking off the first row of the aircraft.

American’s policy on social distancing

American Airlines is one of the airlines that have taken a “where possible” approach for social distancing. Preflight, the airline is making more seats available for booking to let people have more options to social distance themselves on the aircraft. In addition, gate agents and flight attendants have some ability to move passengers around assuming weight and balance is not an issue.

American Airlines in Washington
Social distancing may not be possible on a full flight. Photo: Getty Images

However, one of the biggest variables in this equation is the load factor of a flight. Most planes are going out relatively empty as states and localities continue to urge citizens to stay at home and avoid nonessential travel.

But some people do need to travel. This includes people trying to fly home or people conducting essential business or traveling as medical support to an affected area. Which is why, in some cases, flights are going out pretty full.

American Airlines
Passengers should avoid nonessential travel and wear a mask if they do have to fly. Photo: Getty Images

Given American’s policy, it does not appear that social distancing was possible onboard the aircraft in First Class on this given flight. Social distancing also becomes harder as airlines are cutting flights leaving passengers with one, maybe two, options with an airline to fly on a given route. With some states starting to open up and some travelers taking to the skies again, this could lead to some flights taking-off a little more full than people would like.

American Airlines 2-2
First Class is in a 2-2 on Boeing 737s and A320-family aircraft in American’s narrowbody fleet. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

The added problem in First Class is that most domestic First Class cabins are in a 2-2 configuration. To actively perform social distancing, this would mean airlines would have to block out 50% of seats in the cabin which could lead to a decline in revenue and denying the possibility of an upgrade to frequent flyer elites. For a good number of airlines, this is something they would rather not consider during a time when earning as much as possible is of the utmost importance just for survivability.

Wearing a mask onboard

While Canada has mandated that passengers must wear a mask on board a flight, the US has not instituted that requirement. Also, not every state has requirements that people must wear masks in public areas.

Getty passenger mask
Health agencies recommend wearing a mask where social distancing is not possible. Photo: Getty Images

If you do have to fly, however, it is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to wear a mask. Masks do not have to be medical grade. Cloth masks are also acceptable in reducing transmission. A full description of this guidance can be found on the CDC website here.

American Airlines Delta
American Airlines does not mandate that passengers have to wear a mask. Photo: Getty Images

Other airlines

Recently, a full Air France flight came under scrutiny. That plane, an Airbus A318, flew from Paris to Marseilles with passengers reporting that the aircraft was quite full with minimal social distancing.

Qantas also came under fire for ignoring social distancing on a domestic Australian flight. Ryanair’s boss is no fan of social distancing and has indicated that the airline will not take part in the trend. Meanwhile, easyJet and Delta have taken a stand in support of promoting social distancing onboard aircraft. Furthermore, the head of IATA has expressed some concerns about flight prices and social distancing.

Do you think airlines should be more strict with implementing social distancing? Let us know in the comments!