American, United Airlines to Lift Limits on Seating Capacity as Southwest and Delta Extend Policy
White House Coronavirus task force leader Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed "concern" over ending the safety protocol: "I’m not sure what went into that decision making"
American Airlines and United Airlines plan to lift limitations on seating capacity on their flights this month, according to new reports.
A representative for American confirms with PEOPLE that the airline plans to allow full capacity on its flight starting July 1, after having it capped at 85 percent since April.
"We are unwavering in our commitment to the safety and well-being of our customers and team members," the spokesperson says. "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."
The carrier will also continue to notify customers and allow them to move to more open flights when available, without incurring a change fee.
The decision to allow full capacity flights comes just days after American's Chief Executive Doug Parker revealed the airline is expecting to furlough workers in July, as they are anticipating they'll have 10 to 20 percent more workers than needed, Reuters reported last week.
"It’s going to be even harder than I thought," Parker said at an employee town hall, the outlet reported. "Revenue is not coming back as fast as we’d like."
A rep for United tells PEOPLE that "for regularly scheduled flights that we expect to be fairly full" they will also "continue to reach out to customers about 24 hours prior to departure to notify them that their flight might be more full than expected and allow them to choose to rebook on a different flight or receive a travel credit."
"The overwhelming majority of customers choose to keep their travel plans the same," the spokesperson adds.
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"We’re focused on safety by requiring masks and firmly enforcing the policy. We’re using hospital-grade disinfectant sprayers inside our cabins and, by the end of this week, expect to spray every aircraft before every flight," the representative says. "Our mainline aircraft all have high-efficiency air filters that re-circulate the air every 2-3 minutes. As our partners at the Cleveland Clinic advised us, this multi-layered approach creates a safer environment than any one precaution alone could provide."
Meanwhile, other airlines like Delta and Southwest have chosen to extend their limited seating to allow for better social distancing, Travel and Leisure reported.
Delta plans to extend seating limitations through Sept. 30, maintaining no more than 60 percent capacity in their main cabin. Southwest also plans to keep middle seats open through Sept. 30, while Alaska Airlines has extended its protocol through July 31.
Both the director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) virologist Dr. Robert Redfield, and White House Coronavirus Task Force immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci, have criticized American and United for their decision as numerous places around the country continue to see surges in new coronavirus cases.
Redfield said it was a "substantial disappointment" to learn of American's decision to fully book flights.
“I can say this is under critical review by us at CDC. We don’t think it’s the right message,” Redfield added, per the New York Post.
Fauci called the decision "something that is of concern."
"I’m not sure what went into that decision making,” he told a Senate panel, according to the outlet. "I think in the confines of an airplane that becomes even more problematic."
As of Wednesday, July 1, that are over 2.6 million cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. and 127,461 confirmed deaths.
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