American Airlines and JetBlue implemented new flying policies Monday, after travellers reported packed flights amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Kian Maleki boarded a sold-out American Airlines flight Monday from Dallas to Los Angeles for essential travel. During the first leg of his trip, the center seats were blocked off to keep passengers spaced out, he said. But on his second flight, no social distancing rules were being followed.
“We were on the plane, packed in like sardines, and there’s a recording going on over the speak system, saying we take your health seriously,” Maleki said. “It was as if nothing was going on… as if it was a normal day.”
Erin Strine, another passenger on an American Airlines flight Monday, this one from New York to North Carolina, said he experienced a similar situation.
“Every row around me, all completely full,” he said to CNN.
JetBlue became the first major American airline Monday to require passengers to wear face coverings, effective May 4. The airline was already requiring all crewmembers to wear a face covering while working.
“This is the new flying etiquette,” Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue’s president and chief operating officer, said. “Onboard, cabin air is well circulated and cleaned through filters every few minutes, but this is a shared space where we have to be considerate of others.”
American Airlines followed soon after, announcing Monday that they, too, would require masks for crewmembers, would pass out personal protective equipment to customers and limit the number of passengers on each flight until May 31.
“As part of this limit, American will not assign 50% of main cabin middle seats or seats near flight attendant jump seats on every flight, and will only use those middle seats when necessary,” the airline said in a statement.
Once on board, passengers will be allowed to move to other available seats within their cabin, as long as there aren’t any aircraft weight or balance restrictions, according to the airline.
The airline said improvements to cleaning procedures would begin this week.
The announcement comes nearly three weeks after a union representing flight attendants for American Airlines said that about 100 flight attendants tested positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the number of people traveling by plane has dropped by about 96% amid the pandemic. Earlier this month, the Transportation Security Administration screened about 95,000 people at airport checkpoints, marking a significant drop from the 2.3 million who passed through on the same day in 2019. The numbers are at a 10-year low, according to TSA.
The drop in passengers has caused airlines to cut 71% of their capacity, according to Airlines for America, an industry group that represents carriers such as American, Delta, Southwest and United.