Say goodbye to flight social distancing.
Most major airlines in the U.S. and Canada have announced they will no longer be blocking middle seats as of July 1st.
American Airlines, which has been blocking half the middle seats in economy since April in the name of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic, on Friday said it will end the practice on July 1.
“As more people continue to travel, customers may notice that flights are booked to capacity starting July 1st. American will continue to notify customers and allow them to move to more open flights when available, all without incurring any cost,” the airline said in a statement.
American isn't the first airline to do so. United and Spirit airlines are among the airline's already booking flights to capacity. United CEO Scott Kirby has said there's no such thing as social distancing on a plane.
Southwest, Delta and JetBlue are still blocking middle seats or restricting the number of seats for sale on each flight. Southwest has committed to doing it through September 30.
American spokesman Ross Feinstein said the airline's decision comes as travel is rebounding. The airline has had its busiest days since April this week. He said safety measures in place, including intensified cleaning and mandatory face masks for passengers and crew, protect customers.
“We believe it is safe to go back to our normal capacity,” he said.
American will notify passengers that their next flight might be full, even if it isn't booked to capacity, and outline the options if that prospect concerns them.
Passengers will be allowed to move to another seat in the same cabin if they are uncomfortable with where they are sitting and there is an available seat, he said.
Major Airlines In Canada Will Book To Capacity July 1st
Canada's two largest airlines. WestJet and Air Canada are ending their on-board seat distancing policies starting July 1.
Air Canada has blocked the sale of immediately adjacent seats in economy class, and WestJet has done the same throughout the entire plane, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The carriers said Friday they will revert to health recommendations from the United Nation's aviation agency and the International International Air Transport Association (IATA) trade group.
This means the airlines will no longer block adjacent or middle seats in order to maintain social distancing on flights.
In line with federal directives, Air Canada and WestJet conduct pre-boarding temperature checks and require masks on board. They have also implemented enhanced aircraft cleaning and scaled back their in-flight service in late March, cutting out hot drinks, hot meals and fresh food.
WestJet said its online booking will return to normal on Wednesday.
“Moving forward, our cabin crew are able to assist should there be space to accommodate and we encourage guests to discuss seating arrangements with them once onboard,” said spokeswoman Morgan Bell.
“The new measures will continue to build on the recommendations of ICAO (the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization) and others that a multi-layered strategy to COVID-19 safety is most effective,” Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said in an email.
The demand for air travel is slowly returning as more people are willing to brave cramped flights to get where they need to go. Some have already started vacationing back to Mexico destinations such as Cancun which reopened for tourism at the start of June.
Others have vowed not to get back on a plane for a long time.
“This is the last time I’ll be flying for a very long time,” Dr. Ethan Weiss tweeted in May from a crowded United Airlines flight from Newark to San Francisco. “People on this plane are scared/shocked.”
Back in May, United Airlines clarified their social distancing policy.
“We don't guarantee that there are going to be open seats on our aircraft,” he said. “We have flexible rebooking policies, so if a customer is concerned — they're on an aircraft, they see that it's more full — we'd ask them to reach out to us and we can do to get them on a different flight,” explained Charles Hobart, a spokesperson for United.