Which US Airlines Have Social Distancing Policies In Place?

**Update: 05/04/20 @ 16:56 UTC – Corrected Spirit Airlines’ social distancing policies.**
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For most, it’s a phrase virtually unheard of before February 2020. However, “social distancing” has become a policy that governs most of our lives as we try to navigate around the extremely infectious coronavirus. Many airlines have released policies on social distancing. Let’s look at what the policies of various US airlines are at the moment.

Swa interior
Most flights have not gone out full, naturally this is less of a concern for social distancing. Photo: Southwest Airlines

American Airlines

American Airlines has faced sharp criticism recently as photos and video surfaced of fairly full flights. This is what their website states as the airline’s official policy:

“We’re making more standard seats available on the seat map and restricting access to some seats, when possible, to give you more space.”

The airline’s website adds that if time and flight loads permit, gate agents may move passenger seat assignments as needed to help create a “more comfortable environment”. The key thing to note for American’s policy are the two words “when possible” – which means if there is an in-demand flight, you’ll likely have someone in the seat next to you.

The airline very recently announced it would be mandatory to wear face masks on flights. The policy will come into effect on May 11.

American Airlines reduces international capacity with 10% due to coronavirus
American Airlines will implement social distancing “when possible”. Photo: Getty Images

United Airlines

The airline says it’s implementing “additional, temporary changes to promote social distancing in the air and on the ground”. According to the airline’s website, the new changes include limiting seat selections in all cabins, so customers won’t be able to select seats next to each other or middle seats, “where available”.

United says it’s also alternating window and aisle seats when seats are in pairs as well as boarding fewer customers at a time to allow for more distance.

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Just like American Airlines, the key phrase is “where available”. The airline will require passengers to wear a face mask on board as of Monday.

Delta Air Lines

Delta’s website says that it will be reducing the total number of passengers per flight and also blocking middle seats in Main Cabin, Delta Comfort+ and Delta Premium Select.

Unlike its major rivals, Delta doesn’t have any mention of “where available” or “when possible”. This could signify a firmer stance when it comes to social distancing. This would, of course, come at a financial cost to the airline if there’s a popular flight.

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Delta will require passengers to wear a face mask on board and at airport check-in desks as of Monday.

Delta A220
Delta Air Lines will block the middle seat in most of its cabins. Photo: Getty

Southwest Airlines

There doesn’t seem to be an official policy on the airline’s website. However, we wrote in an earlier article that CEO Gary Kelly indicated that the airline is looking at ways to adapt in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. One mention is the consideration of selling fewer seats on aircraft to encourage social distancing onboard.

Southwest Airlines plane
Southwest Airlines is considering selling fewer seats. Photo: Getty Images

JetBlue

“JetBlue service has been adjusted to focus on social distancing in the cabin, cleanliness across our facilities and aircraft, and taking care of one another and our customers, as only JetBlue people can do during these uncertain times.” -Joanna Geraghty, President and Chief Operating Officer of JetBlue

Despite this statement, it doesn’t appear to have a clear policy that blocks off seats to create space. However, the airline was quite early to implement an across-the-board face-covering policy for its crew and passengers. In fact, those onboard must wear a face-covering over their nose and mouth throughout their journey. This should somewhat assist with fighting virus transmission in the absence of wider seat spacing.

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JetBlue livery
In the absence of an onboard social distancing policy, JetBlue is making it mandatory for passengers to have a face mask on at all times in the cabin. Photo: Getty Images

Other airlines

Budget carrier Spirit Airlines is leaving middle seats open to give passengers more room. From May 11th, employees and passengers must wear face masks at the airport and onboard aircraft.

Meanwhile, Frontier is blocking every other row and now requires passengers to accept a health acknowledgment when checking in via the airline’s website or mobile app. However, we were unable to find a clear policy on social distancing for the carrier.

Finally, Hawaiian Airlines says it “will soon launch updated seat maps with seat blocks specifically designed to maintain social distancing.” For now, reservations and gate agents are manually reassigning seats. The airline does not require passengers or crew to wear face masks, except where mandated by local regulations.

Hawaiian’s gate agents are manually re-assigning seats for now as its services are currently empty enough for unenforced social distancing. Photo: Getty Images

 

Conclusion

The range of policies (or lack thereof) is quite broad for US carriers. There are some airlines that have a public policy but only implement it when ticket sales aren’t at stake (United and American). Others are clear in blocking off their seats at the cost of sales (Delta Air Lines and Spirit Airlines). And then most other airlines are a little more unclear about it.

Will social distancing policies on airlines affect who you choose to fly with? Let us know in the comments!

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