Don’t trust airlines to protect us against coronavirus

It seems that in the air, cash remains king. Why give up a few seats to bolster our safety when you can haul in a few more bucks?

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American Airlines has announced it has started selling flights to capacity as of July 1.

The airline will no longer hold middle seats open. The airline is “abandoning caps on passenger loads that were designed to promote social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic,” Bloomberg reported. Even as COVID-19 was spiking in Texas, Arizona and Florida.

Come on. The airline started that long ago, at least from my experience.

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As they say in church, I am a witness. Three weeks ago, with great trepidation, I flew American.

It was a necessary trip, and life is about taking calculated risks, I reasoned. I did my homework, studying news and information about the airlines. They all declared they were taking great care to require masks, keep middle seats open and deploy strenuous cleaning protocols.

I arrived at an eerily empty O’Hare Airport two hours early. Many restaurants and concessions were closed. I sat on my furiously scrubbed hands at the gate, I wore two masks. My carry-on was loaded with more masks, alcohol-soaked wipes and hand sanitizer.

Boarding time came. To my horror, the plane was filling up … and filling, and filling. By takeoff, every seat around me was taken, including the middle seats.

Every passenger boarded wearing a mask. During the flight, not so much. Two people in the row in front of me took theirs off for most of the two-and-a-half-hour journey. The flight attendants took no notice. I survived the ordeal, and thankfully remain healthy.

Even before American launched its “new” distancing policy, the plane was crowded, for hours, in the air.

Now the airline says customers still will be notified when they are booked on crowded flights and can move their reservations at no cost.

It is illogical, unreasonable, and dishonest for airlines to suggest they can be trusted to protect our safety. I am not alone in that view.

American’s new no-distancing policy has triggered a backlash from the unions, industry experts and government officials.

On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., blasted American during a hearing of the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

“You’re going to have people going from New York to California, five or six hours, sitting inches apart from each other,” Sanders told the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Robert Redfield.

“Why hasn’t the government, whether it’s the CDC or the Department of Transportation, issued guidelines, prohibiting those violations of what we all know to be common sense?” Sanders asked.

“I can tell you that when they announced that the other day, obviously there was substantial disappointment with American Airlines,” Dr. Redfield replied.

American has received $5.8 billion from the federal Payroll Support Program to help keep it financially afloat during the pandemic. Other airlines also won plentiful taxpayer aid. All pledged to take aggressive steps to protect their passengers and staff from this treacherous virus.

American responded to my complaint in a statement:

“As we stated back in March, 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.”

On face coverings, American said:

“The safety and well-being of our customers and team members is our highest priority. American, like other U.S. airlines, requires customers to wear a face covering while on board, and this requirement is enforced at the gate while boarding,” American said. The airline announces the requirement both during boarding and at departure, the statement added, and some passengers are exempt, such as young children and those with a medical reason why they cannot wear a mask. The policy also does not apply while eating or drinking.

“We are unwavering in our commitment to the safety and well-being of our customers and team members. We have multiple layers of protection in place for those who fly with us, including required face coverings, enhanced cleaning procedures, and a pre-flight COVID-19 symptom checklist — and we’re providing additional flexibility for customers to change their travel plans, as well. We know our customers are placing their trust in us to make every aspect of their journey safe, and we are committed to doing just that.”

It seems that in the air, cash remains king. Why give up a few seats to bolster our safety when you can haul in a few more bucks?

United has adopted a similar, fly-full policy. To their credit, Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines have pledged to keep middle seats open until the fall.

The government must crack down on the profiteers.

If the airlines view some precautions in a pandemic as optional, can we rely on them to keep their planes safely up in the air?

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