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Dr. Fauci: Fully-Booked Aircraft “Is Something Of Concern”

Dr. Fauci: Fully-Booked Aircraft “Is Something Of Concern”
Joe Cortez

The United States Senate is once again questioning booking flights to capacity amid the COVID-19 virus, but government officials continue to remain neutral on social distancing in aircraft cabins. Speaking to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, America’s two top doctors noted they were “troubled” by the decision to fully book aircraft.

Two of America’s top doctors told the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions they were “concerned” and “disappointed” by airlines booking flights to capacity, but again stopped short of recommending a face mask mandate by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The comments were made during a hearing on Tuesday, June 30, 2020, regarding “Safely Getting Back to Work and Back to School.”

“Obviously, That is Something of Concern”

The question of booking to capacity was raised by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who asked about the importance of social distancing at all times. Singling-out American for their decision to book flights to capacity, Sen. Sanders noted the potential danger of preventing social distancing on aircraft.

“American Airlines announced they were going to fill up all their planes. Other airlines have done the same,” Sen. Sanders said in the hearing. “So you’re going to have people going from New York to California…sitting inches apart from each other. My question is: Why hasn’t the government, whether it’s the [Centers for Disease Control], or the Department of Transportation, issued guidelines prohibiting those violations of what we all know to be common sense?”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health and a prominent member of the president’s Coronavirus task force, noted that the decision was cause for alarm.

“Obviously, that is something of concern,” he responded to the senator’s question. “I’m not sure exactly what went into that decision making. I hope that there would be something to mitigate against that because, I know as we’ve said, and I continue to repeat it: avoiding crowds, staying distant, and when in a situation like that, wear a mask. I think in the confines of an airplane, that becomes even more problematic.”

Sen. Sanders continued to rally for a federal mandate to maintain social distancing on aircraft and other public transportation means. He suggested the president sign an executive order to force operators to maintain distancing as best as possible.

“Doesn’t it sound a little bit silly, and a little bit in violation of everything you guys have been talking about?” Sanders asked the panel. “To have people sitting next to each other for five or six hours in an airplane? Why haven’t we stopped that type of activity and told the airlines…that is unhealthy?”

“I can tell you when they announced that the other day, obviously there was substantial disappointment with American Airlines,” responded Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC. However, he noted that this was not a priority concern.

“I can’t say that this is under critical review by us, the CDC,” Dr. Redfield continued. “We don’t think it’s the right message, as you pointed out. Again, we think it’s really important…whether it’s a bus, a train or a plane, social distancing to the degree that its feasible and at least have a reliable face covering.”

Airline Industry Left to Self-Govern Social Distancing

From the testimony, the doctors made it clear that social distancing will be left to the airline industry to self-govern, and fits with previous testimony on COVID-19 policy. In a previous hearing, the director of the Federal Aviation Administration said the agency would leave face mask policies to the airlines.

The industry is split evenly on how to social distance on aircraft. American Airlines and United Airlines both opened flights to capacity starting today, July 1, 2020, joining low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines. American spokesperson Ross Feinstein commented on Twitter that while the busiest days for the Fort Worth-based carrier were ahead, their busiest day since the COVID-19 pandemic began was June 28.


Delta Air Lines, JetBlue, and Southwest Airlines will continue blocking middle seats through at least the end of July.

Feature image courtesy: Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions 

View Comments (28)


  1. emcampbe

    July 1, 2020 at 11:44 am

    The problem is, if you’re talking about social distancing, basically no airplane travel would fall under the definition, unless you booked planes too lightly to even have hope of not losing thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars per flight.

    In a typical economy configuration, the only way to keep passengers 6 feet apart in a regular size, mainline jet is to only book passengers in the window seats of every THIRD row. Delta and Southwest can crow about ‘social distancing’ because they aren’t allowing middle seats to be filled. However, it’s all a trick. Sure, one less person in a row is better than not, but realistically, what’s the difference of an empty middle seat if you have people 2 and a half feet in the row directly behind and in front of you? Like I said, to have social distancing on a plane, you could only fill 2 seats of every third row – so basically 2/18 seats, or roughly 11% of the seats.

    Obviously, passengers can choose to fly or not – airlines would not fly if they had to enforce social distancing requirements – cheaper to shut down for a while.

  2. jjmoore

    July 1, 2020 at 4:57 pm

    If social distancing is truly an concern to any passenger, then don’t fly. It is that simple.

    Airlines must make $, and they do that by filling planes.

    It is time for things to get back to normal. If you are too afraid of that, nothing is stopping you from hiding in your bunker. Go for it.

  3. rylan

    July 1, 2020 at 5:56 pm

    Airlines are going to pack passengers in as much as possible, while at the same time claiming that all of the service cuts are for ‘safety’. They can’t have it both ways… it is clearly about money, with some airlines being concerned about optics.

  4. kkua

    July 1, 2020 at 6:26 pm

    Just wear a mask already. If you cannot accept the risk of catching COVID, then don’t fly.

  5. jjmoore

    July 1, 2020 at 7:55 pm

    I’m sick of hearing from this Dr. Fauci guy. He has way too many financial connections to this mess, and I don’t trust much of what he has to say anyway. I wish he would disappear and someone with less political and financial bias would come into the spotlight to guide the medical thought process regarding the pandemic.

  6. Global Adventurer

    July 2, 2020 at 4:29 am

    Like poster “kkua” bluntly stated, just wear a mask (or even a respirator) if you’re concerned about your health or just don’t fly. That’s as simple as it gets, and I have been wearing a respirator on every flight I’ve taken, since February including a 16 hour one. And have not in the least bit contracted Covid-19. If I didn’t have a way to protect myself, I definitely would not be flying. Fact.

  7. Jayell

    July 2, 2020 at 4:43 am

    There is no way to make airplanes “corona-safe.” You’re packed in touching one or two other people and near to about six more. Air is recirculated and not filtered well.

    The fast turnaround at gates to “be on time” and get those ratings up means planes are not cleaned.

    We could stop rating airlines on time at the gate and allow them time to clean. We could mandate them to make the planes less like sardine cans, but costs would go up to fly.

    The solution is probably this:
    If you are subject to complications from colds and virus, you should think twice about flying, and if you must, wear a mask (not that it’s really helpful) sanitize the space around you., boost your immune system, wash your hands and be prepared to seek medical help if you feel ill when you arrive at your destination. If you have COPD, severe asthma, chemo from cancer, suppressed immune system from a transplant, take those drugs that suppress the immune system or give “increased chance of infections” you probably should not fly.

  8. bigislanddave

    July 2, 2020 at 4:49 am

    Federal government pay the airlines for social distancing seats. Airlines return those payments when they are back making Billions of $ when covid 19 is under control with a vaccine.

  9. John Aldeborgh

    July 2, 2020 at 4:51 am

    It is hypocritical for Fauci to be “concerned” and not require that masks be worn by all passengers and crew, independently of the load factor on the plane. We need to be using data in these conversations and not just making qualitative statements. The data is very clear, wearing a mask significantly reduces risk of spreading the virus.

  10. mhead110

    July 2, 2020 at 4:52 am

    But it isn’t about (or just about) whether I get it– it’s — do you give it to me, who doesn’t have a problem (I’m asymptomatic or otherwise mildly affected)– but then I spread it to others who may be immuno-compromised, elderly, at risk. The ONLY way to stop the spread is social distancing and masks. LOOK at the countries which have been successful in really minimizing the spread and that is what they have done.

  11. vargha

    July 2, 2020 at 5:12 am

    Like others have said, you should decide what the risk is, not some hack government doctor who has been wrong about so much on COVID, has never called out protests of thousands as an issue, and who got caught taking off his mask the other day on video at a conference when he thought the cameras had stopped rolling.

    Life is risky. For the vast majority of people, driving on the roads presents a greater risk than COVID. If you are under 35, getting struck by lightning presents a greater risk than COVID. If you are over 70 or have underlying health issues, please take the proper precautions. The MEDIAN age for COVID mortality in the United States is 80! 43% of all American COVID deaths occurred in assisted care facilities.

    But the “one size fits all” approach to this is infuriating. We now have enough data to know that the initial precautionary efforts, while done in good faith for the most part, are overkill for the majority. Exercise prudence and wisdom, and let adults decide for themselves and their families the best approach to risk mitigation.

  12. Tino

    July 2, 2020 at 5:22 am

    The problem is just so simple, as the previous posters have added.

    1. Don’t fly, or
    2. Find a friend who works for an airline and find out the load on your flight before you go.

  13. PJLhurricane

    July 2, 2020 at 5:27 am

    The airlines simply played this wrong. They should have announced the added capacity was intended to assist protestors to economically travel across the country to tear down statues. The media would have applauded them. As for Fauci, quite honestly he has been all over the place on masks. It is nearly physically impossible to operate an airline and keep people 6 feet apart. What about the pilots for that matter? This is silly. If you want to accept the risk and fly, do it. If not, don’t

  14. fotographer

    July 2, 2020 at 5:47 am

    what ever… if you are the expect everyone says you are and think you are… … enough already

  15. deRuiter

    July 2, 2020 at 6:55 am

    You have to keep in mind that this is the Dr. Fauci who blatantly lied to the public (and has now admitted his lying) back in March when telling us not to wear masks because the supply of masks was limited and he wanted to save masks for those in the medical profession. In March he also told us to go to Chinatown to eat, to book cruises, to plan vacations, to live life normally, to go to bars and restaurants without masks. He’s a nice man but he has been totally wrong about the Corona virus from the beginning. He does have a lot of credibility and press good will from his early work on AIDS and he has a large staff of PR people to keep him in the news. You have to keep in mind that Dr. Fauci has been totally wrong about the Covid Crisis since the beginning. I came back from West Bengal at the end of February and Covid had already begun to spread there even if the Indian Government had not noticed or thought to mention it. I saw my friends and their family members coming down with severe symptoms which no one could identify or cure and kept hearing the news of the virus next door in China. I self quarantined from the day I got home and have continued to do so. Luckily I work from home anyway.

  16. jybrick

    July 2, 2020 at 7:45 am

    I will say that what the other poster’s have said about being responsible for your self is true. If you are at risk then you need to protect yourself. But the airlines need to stop their BS as well.

    I took a flight in mid-May connecting through CLT. AAL was talking about keeping the middle seat open for distancing. BBBBSSSSS. Two of the four flight looked 100% full, middle seats and all. The other two appeared to be greater than 90% full. And don’t get me started and how they crammed every passenger into the end of Concourse C to wait for their flight. Every gate in use at the end. I walked past a dozen unused gates to get the the end of the concourse where EVERYONE was waiting for flights that left 10 minutes apart.

    The service cutbacks, however, were real.

  17. FAA

    July 2, 2020 at 7:54 am

    The medical community does not yet fully understand its transmission mechanisms, Short term health implications, long term implications or even if a vaccine would be effective due to the way antibodies behave with this virus.

    Yet, i hear people saying ” we need to get back to normal !”, “Juts go fly !”, “Don’t be afraid”. These are all Neanderthal statements.

    NO ! You are not getting back to normal. The definition of normal you are using does not exist anymore. The new normal is being created as we learn more and more about this virus every day every week every month. People are dying. And the medical community does not know why in most cases.

    The virus will be around with us for a long time. It is very likely that many airlines will have medical restriction imposed on them. The FAA and CDC are currently discussion such measures.

    As someone who traveled twice a month internationally for the past 30 years i see non of my colleagues getting on any flight any time soon. All our business meeting have been pushed into 2021.

    Its one thing if you have to fly, but its another if you should fly. A should is not worth risking my life or the lives of others around me.

    If some airlines have to go out of business, so be it. When the virus is contained or eradicated new airlines will emerge. This is the norm of supply and demand.

    Until then, please stay safe and protect your loved ones and friends.

  18. jjmoore

    July 2, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    @FAA You are quite arrogant to call someone’s comments “Neanderthal”. Maybe your thought process is “Neanderthal” … or better yet, “Nosophobia” in your case. I couldn’t care less what you do or what you think if this is how you react to others’ comments. Go back to your hole and keep hiding.

  19. seattlebruce

    July 2, 2020 at 2:51 pm

    Sure, it’s not practical to stay 6′ apart on airplanes. But not sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with a stranger for several hours during a global pandemic seems like a good thing even if it increases costs by close to 50%. Your mouth is about 17″ from the mouth of your neighbor but 32″ from the mouth of the next closest passenger (in the row in front or behind you), and there’s no seatback or back of a head in between.

    I think this would be a fair requirement for the health of the community, and if it reduced the number of passengers, that would be a good side effect.

  20. arcticflier

    July 2, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    Thankyou for making the first intelligent post on the thread. Even when 6’ distancing is not possible, avoiding contact with another PAX seated against you in coach is absolutely limiting risk.

    And an even bigger thank you to Dr Fauci, who has saved 1,000’s of American lives by his non-political expert reporting. A truly great Human Being.

  21. MichaelJMcFadden

    July 2, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    From my 2003 “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”, page 140:

    “the air on smoking flights was actually healthier than the air on non-smoking ones! … nonsmoking flights had nine CFU/ m^3 (nine “colony forming units” of fungi per cubic meter) as opposed to only five or six CFU/m^3 on smoking flights! … as airplanes take advantage of the absence of smoking and refresh the air of planes only 20% as often as they did back when smoking was allowed… a normal response to an opportunity for financial savings: fresh air at high altitudes costs money… and without smoke in the air the health risks are effectively invisible

    The increased health risks of epidemic diseases spreading in the … heavily recirculated air of our smoke-banned planes and airports will never be apparent until a disaster occurs… and by then it will be too late. The worldwide spread of an airborne infectious disease may someday be laid at the doorstep of the Great American Antismoking Crusade. An airborne Ebola, antibiotic resistant pneumonia, or bio-terror horror could be the final legacy of those trying to save us from ourselves.”

    Airborne spread could account for early wide US virus spread, as we fly in-country more than most populations in the world.

    ::sigh:: It reminds me of when I was laughed at in the Philly Mayor’s office in the 1990s when I told them the Antismokers would ban smoking in pubs: “Ahh, Mike, that’ll NEVER happen HERE.”

    – MJM, aka Cassandra

  22. arcticflier

    July 3, 2020 at 5:10 am

    Isn’t vindication a great thing?

    BTW, I hope you avoid getting Covid-19 since your choosing to smoke these past decadeswill make you a prime candidate for a bed in the ICU.

    Does anyone know if airlines can still refresh the air of planes at rates equal to they could back when Mike could light up at 20,000’ ?

  23. MichaelJMcFadden

    July 3, 2020 at 9:01 am

    arctic, you are quite correct. While very few smokers (according to CDC numbers, 1/10th as often as if they were nonsmokers 96 instead of 1,000) get Corona, those who DO get *AND* are over 65 *AND* happen to have advanced COPD or Heart Disease … those smokers are prime ICU candidates. Regular smokers likely not so much, although you’ll note the researchers don’t make such a breakdown public. Want to try asking them to share the figures? – MJM

  24. myisland

    July 3, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Fauci needs a first class ticket to Gitmo.

  25. jfish1000

    July 4, 2020 at 5:33 am

    “We now have enough data to know that the initial precautionary efforts, while done in good faith for the most part, are overkill for the majority.”

    What are you talking about? Have you not seen the amazing rise in cases across the South and West – and please tell me you also know that isn’t just increased testing, but rising % positive and hospitalizations as well?

    They opened too fast, and have not bothered to social distance or wear masks – result? Lots of infections., and the EU closing its doors and a scramble to try to control it after it’s already exploding.

    The primary point everyone seems to be missing in this thread is this isn’t just about YOUR choices and decisions on risk – if you get infected, you can infect a bunch of other people before you get any symptoms many days later.

    If we allow activity to go on in a widespread way that allows for gatherings INDOORS without social distancing and masks, we are encouraging continued outbreaks – which will mean more disease and death.

    It’s a hard call with airplanes as they can’t profitably move people as they were set up before COVID if they try to social distance on the aircraft. Difficult problem, no easy answer.

    But this string of people on this thread saying “just make your own decision on level of risk” or entirely disregarding the effect on OTHERS you may then infect when you go grocery shopping back home and bring the virus outbreak from AZ back to NYC again.

    We do not want to all live in bunkers – we need to get on with our lives while waiting for a hopeful vaccine, but we need to do it in a smart, measured way that takes into account the growing science around COVID – and right now what we ACTUALLY know is that the highest risk activity is being INDOORS with a lot of strangers not wearing masks. That sounds a lot like an airplane to me. The only saving grace could be the supposed HEPA filters that the air constantly recirculates through supposedly? That’s what this thread should be discussing.

  26. jimbous

    July 4, 2020 at 7:46 am

    Anyone who truly thinks that a 25 or 50 cent or a dollar face mask or a home made one offers any viral protection in a FULL plane with other passengers siting 6 inches away from you is at the very best misguided or downright ignorant.
    American and United flying FULL planes and requiring face masks are offering a false sense of security so that they can pack planes for profit, that’s all.
    These cheap masks do not seal around the face and do not protect the eyes where the virus can attach itself and infect you.
    In a full plane these masks are really a placebo and may offer a mental soothing effect to some.
    This virus enters thru the 5 openings in your face, mouth, nostrils, and eyes.
    That’s why you are told to keep your hands away from your face and wash them for 20 secs, and do not touch the mask.
    The main form of viral transmission is people unconsciously touching their face, eyes/nose/mouth.
    That botlle of water or beer you get from the flight attendant probably carries about the same or more infection risk.
    These cheap face masks may offer some degree of protection in a 50% full plane with passengers spaced at least 1 meter apart with the overhead vents blowing air away from you, sort of an air curtain around you, but offer next to no protection in a packed plane.
    Especially in a transatlantic or cross country flight with others sleeping and snoring with ill fitting masks.
    Even the more expensive N95 masks do not form a perfect face seal.
    Breathing causes a vacuum effect around one’s face during inhalation and the ill fitting/high permeability masks offer minor protection from someone sitting next to you.
    And if the floating viruses land in your eyes, you are infected, so you better get your ski goggles with you in your next full flight.
    The only way to avoid the airborne virus is to have a full face mask with a perfect seal around the face.
    And for men with beards that’s impossible.
    Men who work in jobs where there is the potential of hydrogen sulfide release and/or presence are required to be clean shaven as several hundreds ppm will kill.

    With this virus several hundreds ppm will surely infect quite a few people in a closed space.

    Passengers should not be packed in full planes these days.
    If you must travel in a full plane get a full face NBC gas mask with fresh filters, or better still do not fly in a full plane.

  27. jjmoore

    July 6, 2020 at 7:46 am

    This virus has the same mortality rate as the common flu for those under the age of 60. Facts, folks. Older people need to be hiding from this… not the entire population.

    Masks are worthless. Take note of what the lab workers in virology labs wear: full body suits with assisted respirators (the filters are difficult to breathe through unassisted). Anyone that truly believes these will protect yourself or others is a complete fool and doesn’t value the science or facts of this matter.

    If you are worried about getting the virus, don’t fly. Pretty simple. If you are over age 60, you shouldn’t be flying… and frankly wouldn’t be exposing yourself to the public until a vaccine is available. If you are under 60, you are at the same risk as you are with the common flu. Time to get back to normal, folks. Facts don’t care about your feelings.

  28. PhillyG33

    July 6, 2020 at 7:50 am

    Darwin said it the best (almost), “Survival of the smartest”. Which side are you on if you listen to politicians over scientists and make excuses for airlines packing middle seats during a pandemic when they should have banked money during the fat times and also are getting bailout $$s? Wish you the best!

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