As Demand Grows Which US Carriers Offer Social Distancing?

As states begin to relax their coronavirus policies and allow businesses to open up again, we thought it would be interesting to look at how US carriers are handling social distancing. While we see increasing numbers of stores opening back up and people returning to work, we must remember that these businesses are operating under strict guidelines.

American Airlines 737-800 aircraft
American Airlines has nothing in writing to say they are practicing social distancing. Photo: Getty Images

Supermarkets, shops, restaurants, bars, and many other local businesses are operating with fewer customers to comply with social distancing guidelines. By comparison, airlines are finding that they need to cram in passengers due to a reduced number of flights.

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Airlines reduced the number of flights

When airlines noticed a steep decline in passenger numbers due to the coronavirus, they immediately cut back on services. Not only did they reduce the number of flights, but they also used aircraft like buses, stopping at several cities on the route.

What this shows us is that there is one rule for some and then another for the airlines. Ground-based businesses and all forms of public transport have had to adhere to social distancing rules and are losing potential income. On the other hand, airlines are using their flexibility to make as much money as they can with the least amount of overheads.

American Airlines
With fewer flights operating, airlines are finding high demand. Photo: Getty Images

There are no social distancing laws for airlines

Local and state laws are in place to ensure that ground-based businesses follow the rules, but no such rules are in place for airlines. This had allowed them to come up with a patchwork of guidelines that are merely suggestions.

Airlines have published their plans with regards to keeping people apart after videos and photos on social media showing packed planes and no social distancing.

American Airlines

American Airlines has nothing on its website to suggest that it is attempting to implement social distancing. When journalist Dion Rabouin Rabouin tweeted about another full flight on American, the airline responded, saying, 

“Our goal is to leave 50% of Main Cabin middle seats open, when possible, creating more space for customers.” 

Delta Air Lines

On Wednesday, Delta Air Lines published a statement saying it will extend social distancing measures on its flights until the end of September.

Delta Air Lines is limiting capacity and blocking the middle seat on its flights’ Photo: Getty Images

It will achieve this by blocking middle seats and capping the number of passengers per cabin. Delta will limit seating to 50% in first class, 60% in economy, and 75% in its exclusive Delta One cabins.

United Airlines

United Airlines took a side step this week after Airline CEO Scott Kirby weighed in on social distancing on aircraft. According to aviation website, The Points Guy Kirby said,

 “You can’t be six feet apart on an airplane, middle seat, or not.” 

Now, following a tweet from cardiologist Ethan Weiss, United says it will notify passengers if their flight is more than 70% full and allow them to rebook or receive a flight credit.


JetBlue has decided to block the middle seat on all its Airbus aircraft except for family members flying together. This will be in place until July.

Southwest Airlines

Mirroring Delta’s move of blocking of seats, Southwest Airlines intends to do a similar thing until at least the end of July. When taking with Reuters about it, CEO Gary Kelly said,

“You won’t see full flights on Southwest at least through the end of July, and if we do have more demand for that flight, we’ll add additional flights to meet demand.” 

Social distancing on flights is impossible

While it is nice to see some airlines making an effort to keep people safe by adhering to social distancing rules, the truth is that is is not going to help. Aircraft cabins and the closeness of the seating make it virtually impossible to be six feet apart from fellow passengers.

Southwest Airlines plane
Southwest will add additional aircraft rather than fly full flights Photo: Getty Images

The simple solution, and the one that makes the most sense, is to let passengers decide if they want to fly or not. 

What do you think about social distancing on planes? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.