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American Opens Middle Seats with Travel Health Advisory Panel

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Image Source: American Airlines

American Airlines will once again book aircraft “to capacity,” after creating a Travel Health Advisory Panel in collaboration with Vanderbilt University. The panel will offer advice on “health and cleaning matters” as it pertains to aircraft.

American Airlines is preparing to book aircraft “to capacity,” as they turn to Vanderbilt University for advice on how to keep cabins clean and flyers safe. The airline announced middle seats will open up with the formation of their Travel Health Advisory Panel.

Crowded Flights Mitigated by Cleaning Procedures

Starting July 1, the airline says flights will be “booked to capacity,” meaning the previously-blocked middle seat will be available for passengers. In a statement to USA Today, the airline says their decision is based on safety.

“We believe it is safe to go back to our normal capacity,” American spokesperson Ross Feinstein told USA Today. FlyerTalk reached out to American for comment, and was referred to their press release.

The move is in concert with American’s increased attention to cleanliness and flyer safety. As part of this commitment, the Fort Worth-based carrier is forming a Travel Health Advisory Panel with Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The board will advise American on infectious diseases, and the best practices to prevent transmission. These steps include how to properly clean aircraft, screen passengers for potential health issues, and other preventative measures.

The airline is also working with the Global Biorisk Advisory Council, a division of ISSA, to earn GBAC STAR certification. According to the press release: “GBAC STAR Accreditation demonstrates that proper cleaning and disinfection work practices, procedures and systems are in place to prepare for, respond to and recover from pandemics.” American hopes to earn GBAC STAR status for their aircraft and lounges by the end of 2020.

An American Airlines crewmember cleans a seatback as part of the carrier’s comprehensive cleaning program. Photo courtesy: American Airlines

COVID-19 Response Transforms for American

In addition to the new teams and accreditation, American is changing policies to ensure customer confidence. Alongside making face coverings mandatory while flying and asking health screening questions during check-in, the carrier will allow flyers to switch flights under certain circumstances.

On flights where middle seats are booked, the airline will notify passengers of an anticipated increase of travelers. In turn, those flyers may be able to move to a different flight without charge. If they keep their flight, passengers may be able to switch seats in their booked cabin, with weight or balance restrictions in mind.

American is also extending their change fee waiver to include travel booked through Sept. 30, 2020, but passengers must pay any fare difference. Flyers can change their origin or destination cities as part of the offer, and must complete their travel by Dec. 31, 2021. Award tickets booked with American AAdvantage miles are also included in this offer.

American Becomes Third Airline to Open Middle Seats

With their announcement, American is the third U.S.-based carrier to open up the middle seat for flyers. Both Spirit Airlines and United Airlines are booking aircraft to capacity, with the chief executive of the Chicago-based airline declaring social distancing impossible inside the cabin.

“If you look at an airplane, airplanes don’t have social distancing. 6 feet, we’re not going to be 6 feet apart,” United CEO Scott Kirby said at the Bernstein 36th Annual Strategic Decisions Conference. “But an airplane environment is incredibly safe. On the airplane, we’re recirculating the air through half filtered every two to three minutes. I mean, I don’t know of anywhere else that you’re going to be with people around where that’s happening.”

Not parties are happy about American’s decision. Earlier this week, labor union Allied Pilots Association called on the government to purchase select seats on aircraft to ensure social distancing in a proposal they called the SEATS concept: Save Essential Air Transportation Seating.

“Under SEATS, the government would purchase enough seats on each flight to eliminate the need for any passenger to sit next to a stranger,” APA president Capt. Eric Ferguson said in a press release. “Thanks to uniform social distancing, passengers would be encouraged to fly more, airlines would be encouraged to operate more flights, and the government would ensure the preservation of critical transportation infrastructure and associated jobs.”

Other airlines will continue to block middle seats for the near future. Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, and Southwest Airlines are all reducing aircraft capacity until further notice.

Hawkeyefan August 3, 2020

Honestly if you're that scared, don't fly. We plan to soon not worried one iota.

B727Jet July 27, 2020

As nice as it would be to have the middle seat open on most flights, it just is not sustainable long term, not without the airlines raising ticket prices significantly to cover the loss of revenue from the blocked seats. The real sad issue is, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been politicized to a very high degree all across the world, and sadly had turned people against each other everywhere you look.

jimbous July 16, 2020

Avoid flying American, United, and Spirit, if you value your health. Fly Delta and its partners, and others that keep the middle seats blocked. Looked to get a JFK-FCO flight with Alitalia and checked the seating chart. In a 2-4-2 seat configuration only the window seats on both sides and the aisle seats in the center 4 seats were available. All others were blocked. That's a safer way to fly, especially in a 9 hour flight. Alitalia can afford to do that since these transatlantic flights will be lightly traveled anyway, now and probably for the next year or so.

snidely June 28, 2020

Is there any number count anywhere on the number of in flight members who have checked positive? If so, is the number marginally higher than that of the general population?

Wing It One World June 28, 2020

That is why America has the highest amount of deaths currently but according to some readers this is wimpy sissy and should stop, That in its self is derogatory but I’ll let that slide as I am not going to lower my standards, clearly other think differently. I agree it should stop, their attitude mainly towards fellow humans really. . Any amount of deaths from this virus is tragic. Sadly I’m not surprised with the pitiful attitude of some users of this this blog those deaths with continue to rise. Please get a grip and have some respect for human kind. How hard is it to follow the rules. Wear a mask and respect the rules everyone is then a happier flyer.