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American Opens Middle Seats with Travel Health Advisory Panel

American Opens Middle Seats with Travel Health Advisory Panel
Joe Cortez

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.

View Comments (11)


  1. cscasi

    June 26, 2020 at 9:57 am

    Great idea; except for taxpayers. If the government starts buying the middle seats, the funds come from the taxpaying public.
    Instead, why not have APA use some of its funds to purchase the seats since it is so interested in social distancing on the flights its pilots fly?

  2. flyboy_88

    June 26, 2020 at 10:28 am

    There is not enough space on a place to effectively socially distance. You would need less than 25% capacity. The best you can do it mitigation… Temperature screening at the airport and before you board, frequent cleaning, mandatory masks.

  3. Pogaf

    June 26, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    Wait… they were blocked? I flew a few weeks ago and my outgoing flight was almost packed to the gills, middle seats and all. My return flight had far less passengers, but again, there was no block on middle seats when booking.

  4. glob99

    June 26, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    Being shoulder to shoulder and elbow to elbow and sharing armrests does not improve the health situation. It is purely an economic decision.

  5. jjmoore

    June 26, 2020 at 6:40 pm

    If you are worried about “social distancing” on an airplane, then you shouldn’t be flying. The mask bogus just adds insult to injury. If you are afraid of people not wearing masks, then you should continue hiding in your home and stay there (and no, the government shouldn’t subsidize your fears). The time for this wimpy, sissy stuff needs to stop and the country needs to reopen. You can either be a part of it, or stay hiding. At the end of the day, the virus will not be stopped. Herd immunity is what will bring the virus to a stop. All these silly measures (if they even work) only prolong herd immunity.

    Open the country up… no strings attached. I choose to be a part of it, regardless of the risk. If you disagree with this, then you are too weak to coexist in a functioning, capitalist society.

  6. rylan

    June 26, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    Is this really surprising or anything new though? AA has been packing flights full throughout the whole covid pandemic. They never blocked middle seats or restricted ticket sales to keep a flight booked under a certain amount. They want to keep them packed as much as possible.

  7. Detroiter

    June 27, 2020 at 2:01 pm

    I choose not to offer myself up as a human sacrifice to the great god of the market (blessed be its name) to make more bucks for already stinking rich people. If that makes me a sissy, fair enough. I’ve been called way worse than that in my life. I’m not hiding in my house – I go out shopping and doing other errands. It will be a while, however, until I feel comfortable going out to eat or flying, precisely because of people such as jj, who no doubt would be fine infecting me before they too fall ill. I suppose the question is how many deaths are acceptable on the road to herd immunity. Half a million? 1 million? 2 million or more? And how many permanent lung, heart, or kidney impairments among seemingly recovered patients.

  8. craig44485

    June 27, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    We are so excited middle seats are now available to book and fly in said no one ever!

  9. luckypierre

    June 28, 2020 at 3:58 am

    This is a bogus announcement. Perhaps in April they followed the blocking protocol, but in May and June they have been selling every seat on the plane (apart from row blocked to improve distance from flight attendants) and not blocking middle seats. The basic economy seating algorithm continues to place passengers in middle seats, even with significant availability of window and aisle seating in main cabin,

  10. Wing It One World

    June 28, 2020 at 12:45 pm

    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.

  11. snidely

    June 28, 2020 at 2:52 pm

    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?

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