Current DateSeptember 19, 2021

COVID-19: American Airlines fills up its planes and arouses criticism

American Airlines resumed flying its planes at full capacity on Wednesday, abandoning certain precautions against COVID-19, which provoked disapproval from health authorities at a time when the pandemic exploded in part of the United States.

If other large American companies such as Delta Air Lines had decided in May to block seats to respect social distancing on board their aircraft, other carriers, such as United Airlines, had never taken such measures since the were few passengers flying in the first place.

The decision by American Airlines comes at a time when the acceleration of the reopening of the economy coincides with a new outbreak of the pandemic.

“American Airlines disappointed us a lot” when it made the announcement on Friday, said Director of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) Robert Redfield before the Senate health committee on Tuesday.

“We don’t think this is the right message,” he added.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease expert at the National Institute of Health, also criticized the decision when without more preventive measures, the number of infections could climb to 100,000 per day, he warned. “Obviously, (the decision of American Airlines) is something of concern. I do not know what motivated this decision, “he said before the Senate. “I think that in the confined space of an airplane, it is all the more problematic,” he said.

The new coronavirus has already claimed more than 127,000 lives in the United States, and the country still has more than 42,000 new infections daily, according to the latest Johns Hopkins University count, which reports. And due to the surge in contamination and death, especially in the south and west of the country, some American states have had to pause the deconfinement process.

American Airlines thus seems to take the opposite view from the precautionary principle. “We are adamant in our commitment to the safety and well-being of our customers and members of our team,” said a spokesperson. He also highlighted the “different layers of protection in place” for travelers, citing the wearing of a mandatory mask, improved cleaning procedures and a “checklist of COVID-19 symptoms before the flight”.

Passengers whose flight is full can also exchange their ticket free of charge.

For its part, United Airlines believes that blocking the middle seats, “is a public relations strategy, not a security strategy.”

Josh Earnest, its communications director, argued that passengers seated on either side of empty seats are separated by less than 6 feet (1.8 meters), that is, less than the recommended distance in the USA.

Likewise, “the people in the row in front of you are within 6 feet of you, the people in the row behind you are within 6 feet of you,” he reacted.

For Delta like Southwest, blocking seats contributes to more safety. They both decided to continue this policy until September 30. JetBlue and Frontier also continue to limit their capabilities.

Air travel is struggling currently due to international travel restrictions. Companies are therefore trying to win back customers on domestic flights. In its defense, American argues that it disinfects all planes from top to bottom, “including the buckles of belts, seats, trays and other surfaces”.

Like its competitors, it also applies an electrostatic jet inside the plane “which kills 99,9999% of viruses and bacteria in 10 minutes,” said the spokesman. “American is the only airline in the network to use a product […] that offers continuous protection for seven days against bacteria, mold and viruses, including […] the virus that causes COVID-19”, he argues.

Finally, “the air filtration system […] provides complete air renewal every two to four minutes, similar to the standard for hospitals,” he said. Asked by AFP about the lack of general instructions, the aviation authorities said that “the Department of Transport and the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) have made it clear that passengers should wear masks when traveling by plane “. And they appeal to the civic sense to follow the recommendations of the CDC and those of the International Civil Aviation Organization.