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United Will Now Notify Passengers When Flights Are Too Full for Social Distancing

United Will Now Notify Passengers When Flights Are Too Full for Social Distancing
Taylor Rains

United Airlines took criticism over the weekend after Dr. Ethan Weiss, a cardiologist from San Francisco, Tweeted a photo of his full flight. The tweet said, “I guess @united is relaxing their social distancing policy these days? Every seat full on this 737,” with a photo showing a cabin full of passengers and the middle seats occupied.


Dr. Weiss said he, along with other passengers, were shocked that every seat was taken. He also shared an email he received from United on April 30, ten days before his flight, that said the middle seats would be blocked to give passengers “enough space onboard.” However, it appears that was not the case.

ImageOn Monday, United released a statement in response to the tweet, “We’ve overhauled our cleaning and safety procedures and implemented a new boarding and deplaning process to promote social distancing. Our flight to San Francisco had an additional 25 medical professionals on board who were flying for free to volunteer their time in New York — we’ve provided complimentary flights for more than 1,000 doctors and nurses in the past few weeks alone — and all passengers and employees were asked to wear face coverings, consistent with our new policy.” However, they did not comment on their middle-seat policy.

Dr. Weiss is not the only one that has noticed United’s failure to follow through on their middle seat promise. Discussion in the FlyerTalk forums has speculated that the airline is not enforcing the policy, with one saying, “It’s not being enforced. They will happily sell those seats if they can. It’s mostly for show — people don’t habitually select middle seats anyway, if they have a choice.” Another said, “Believe UA is preventing the pre-assignments of middle seats to encouraging social distancing but will allow purchases that then will require at the gate the use of middles. Yes, a bit saying one thing but doing the other of needed.”

According to United’s website, they are, in fact, not allowing customers to pre-select middle seats, but cannot guarantee the middle seat will be vacant.

“While we cannot guarantee that all customers will be seated next to an unoccupied seat, based on historically low travel demand and the implementation of our various social distancing measures, that is the likely outcome.”

Furthermore, it appears they have also added a new policy for flights with a near-full capacity.

“Starting next week and continuing through June 30, we’ll allow customers on flights that are expected to be closer to full capacity to choose to rebook on a different flight or receive a travel credit. We’ll do our best to contact them about 24 hours before their departure time so they can decide whether to adjust their plans before they arrive at the airport – and we’ll provide this option at the gate, if more than 70% of customers have checked in.”

Have you experienced a full flight recently? What do you think about United’s social distancing practices? Let us know in the comments!

View Comments (16)


  1. jjmoore

    May 12, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    This is going to be an artifact of our country RETURNING TO NORMAL!! Be willing to deal with it or STAY HOME. We MUST get back to normal.

  2. CaptHolic

    May 12, 2020 at 11:19 pm

    The governments of the world have gone all-in preflop and now they are stuck with the decision… Even if they wanted to, now they can’t even admit they bought into the hype and destroyed the economy for no freakin reason…
    I’ve been stuck in Saudi for 64 days and counting. Enough is enough! Open the world back up!

  3. txirish

    May 13, 2020 at 4:28 am

    So, the stated policy about “automatically blocking middle seats” is actually “middle seats will probably be empty, unless we can sell them.”

    Better to increase fares 50% and permanently block middle seats. This might be time for a creative airline to ditch the “can of sardines” seating approach and offer a safer, not to mention more comfortable, alternative.

  4. pmiranda

    May 13, 2020 at 5:44 am

    Oh boy, overbooking flights, yeah, I’m really looking forward to getting back to the bad, old, normal.

  5. respawn

    May 13, 2020 at 6:07 am

    That’s right! We have to get back to normal RIGHT NOW! We don’t care how many people may catch this disease and die from it!!!1!1111!!1

    (Because the internet is often a poor conveyance of emotion, that was sarcasm right there.)

  6. MRM

    May 13, 2020 at 7:11 am

    jjmoore: There will never be the “old normal” every again – and folks like you will continue to ensure that simple fact.

    As for the notification, we’ve had Continental/United’s credit card and frequent flyer programs for over two decades with strict instructions to be notified of ANY mangy pets travelling onboard with passenger seating. Notifications received? ZERO Times we’ve either had to be re-booked or risk inflammation/death due to mongrels? Dozens.

    United is only about themselves – always have been and always will be – so this is nothing but PR that I hope blows up in their faces.

  7. mc4bbs


    May 13, 2020 at 9:53 am

    I won’t fly United unless they block out the middle seats until this is over!

    This is the NEW NORMAL for now, and if you are on a too-full flight, call 911 and report them for violating social distancing.

    Keep this up and they will be forced to practice what they preach! Until then, I’ll be on DELTA.

  8. rylan

    May 13, 2020 at 4:56 pm

    Not surprising… UA obviously had no intention of actually having middle seats open. Their policy is… if the flight isn’t sold out then you’re lucky, but if we sell tickets then we’re gonna pack people in.
    And just wait until they send notices to pax that they are on a full flight and that it’ll be a change fee or fare increase to change to a different one.

  9. chipmaster

    May 13, 2020 at 5:10 pm

    UA gets an F for managing image, but is that a surprise ? But all the airlines are bleeding money, there is no way they can stay afloat with their current reduced schedule and flying partially full flights, get real. Or I guess all the people who disagree should be willing to either stay home, or willing to pay what it takes for business to stay in business and keep the space and lose capacity at restaurants, planes, cruises, etc… you simply can’t have your cake and eat it too!

  10. OZFLYER86

    May 13, 2020 at 10:07 pm

    leaving a seat empty is just plain stupid & provides no distancing. A mask is the solution.

  11. PhillyG33

    May 14, 2020 at 7:36 am

    United continues to lie through their collective teeth. Yes, I will eventually need to travel and would hope the airline whose hands I put my health in would care even a little. It isn’t as simple as ‘stay at home if you’re scared’. It’s more like fly with these idiots who have no concern for your health if you’re stupid’. Of course, if there was any leadership from the FAA regarding guidelines that would certainly help. However, that would make just too much sense in this current “let’s open it all up now – waaaaahhh’.

  12. nd2010

    May 14, 2020 at 8:16 am

    People don’t choose middle seats? I’m someone who would rather sit in the middle seat than an aisle seat. There’s been a time that I “poached” the middle seat when I was assigned the aisle seat in that row.

  13. nycityny

    May 14, 2020 at 8:33 am

    Why is it legal for United to fly full aircrafts right now? If the government can force restaurants and entertainment venues to operate at specific reduced levels why can’t it be done for airlines? Make a law; problem solved.

  14. mvoight

    May 14, 2020 at 9:20 am

    911? Seriously? Airline flights are not under the jurisdiction of state governors.
    Delta has been having some pretty full flights too. You are free to buy the seat next to the one you are sitting in.
    To meet the 6 foot requirement, they would only have 2 of the 6 seats in each row occupied and they would have to have an empty row or 2 between those rows with only 2 of 6 seats occupied. Not economically viable.

  15. jjmoore

    May 15, 2020 at 1:26 pm


    No. We live in enough of a police state already with a clueless government telling us what to do based on the analysis of an already disproved crook (Falsey Fauci). Enough of the economic disaster. Open the economy. If you don’t want to be a part of it, by all means, stay at home and don’t whine about these things.

  16. aresef

    May 17, 2020 at 5:08 pm

    They either have a policy or they don’t. It isn’t safe to have anybody in the middle seat and the policy should firmly acknowledge that.

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