**Update: 05/12/20 @ 10:15 UTC – A United spokesperson shared information on the airline’s social distancing policy; details below**
Carriers are increasingly coming under pressure to make adjustments to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic. Over the last month, United Airlines has introduced a series of hygiene measures throughout its operations. However, the Chicago outfit is reportedly not able to guarantee that it can adhere to social distancing practices on its flights.
According to CBC, a doctor named Ethan Weiss was flying on a United service to San Francisco from Newark over the weekend and had an issue with the number of passengers on board. The jet was packed with travelers throughout the cabin.
The frustrated cardiologist tweeted United about his concerns. A photo shows that there were multiple passengers seated next to each other. He questioned if the airline has relaxed its social distancing policies on the Boeing 737.
— Ethan Weiss (@ethanjweiss) May 9, 2020
Weiss said that despite the busy flight, he received an email from the operator beforehand, stating that it is automatically blocking middle seats to give allow for enough space on board. After the flight, he said he would not be flying again for a very long time.
What does the carrier say?
United commented on the service, stating that this aircraft carried an additional 25 medical professionals. They were flying for free after volunteering to work in New York. The airline said the following, as reported by CBS.
“We’ve provided complimentary flights for more than 1,000 doctors and nurses in the past few weeks alone —and all passengers and employees were asked to wear face coverings, consistent with our new policy.”
Additionally, United recently shared information on its seating amid the outbreak. The firm said the following on its website.
“Though 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.”
However, the company adds that it is limiting seat selections in all cabins. Therefore, customers won’t be able to select seats next to each other or middle seats where available. Altogether, even if customers can’t choose to these seats, the carrier could still place a passenger into them.
Meanwhile, carriers such as Delta Air Lines, are actively promoting seat blocking on its flights. Middle seats have been blocked from sale on all of the Atlanta outfit’s trips since the middle of April. It is now also blocking select window and aisle seats in all cabins on aircraft configured with 1×2, 2×2 and 2×3 seating.
Even though United is not adhering to seat blocking procedures, there are several other initiatives in place. Along with free face masks, and the production of its own hand sanitizer, the airline has introduced the following measures:
- Enhanced cabin sanitization – electrostatic spraying has been integrated into cleaning procedures on all inbound long-haul international flights, and mainline overnight aircraft at the operator’s US hubs.
- Reduced onboard contact – the minimizing of touchpoints by changing current food processes and the temporary removal of inflight items.
- State-of-the-art circulation systems – these remove up to 99.7% of airborne particles.
- Social distancing at the airport – while minimizing contact, there will soon be sneeze guards at key interaction points.
Nonetheless, in the current climate, several passengers will be looking for any chance to be as far away from another flier as much as possible. With the pandemic still in full swing in the United States, those needing to travel are looking to be extra careful.
A United spokesperson told Simple Flying that demand has declined dramatically over the last few months and even though the company has reduced its schedule by 90 percent, the vast majority of its flights (85 percent) are less than half full. However, because the schedule is so reduced, there are a small number of flights where customers are finding planes fuller than they expect.
What are your thoughts on United’s approach? Have you flown on a flight recently performed by the airline? Let us know what you think in the comment section.