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Travelers at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia in March. Photo: Aizuddin Saad/NurPhoto via Getty Images

As air travel increases, many airlines are now offering options for travelers worried about social distancing on packed flights.

The state of play: After previously packing customers onto full flights despite assurances that planes would be sold only to 50% capacity, American Airlines announced Wednesday it will alert travelers about crowded planes before their trips and allow them to switch to other flights.

  • The announcement follows similar measures from United, which alerts customers when flights are 70% full.
  • Delta said it plans to add 100 flights in June so its planes fly no more than 60% full.
  • JetBlue is leaving middle seats open unless families are traveling together on its Airbus planes through July 6.
  • Southwest said it will leave middle seats open on Boeing 737 planes through the end of July.

Why it matters: These are the strongest measures yet put in writing by airlines to help stop the spread of COVID-19 since the pandemic started.

  • Many airlines felt pressure from social media posts showing packed flights and legislators have weighed in seeking official social distancing mandates on planes.
  • Airlines also are trying to cope with massive revenue losses — American plans to reduce its management and support staff by about 30%.
Data: FactSet; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The intrigue: Airlines have been highly favored by stock traders over the past two weeks, as more begin to anticipate a quick rebound in consumer demand for air travel as cities around the U.S. reopen.

  • JETS, the U.S. global airline ETF, has delivered about four times the S&P 500's return over the past two weeks, though it remains well below year-to-date returns.

Go deeper

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
Sep 4, 2020 - Economy & Business

Hotel crisis hits new milestone

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Labor Day weekend traffic might be a touch lighter this year, with hotel bookings down 65% compared to last year.

Why it matters: America's hotels are on life support as the coronavirus pandemic drags on, with hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue and some 2 million jobs at stake.

Updated 22 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to coronavirus pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Azar says deadly Capitol siege could "tarnish" Trump administration's legacy — Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Sep 4, 2020 - Health

"Mask up": Governors urge caution ahead of Labor Day weekend

Beach-goers in San Clemente, California on Sept. 2 ahead of Labor Day weekend. Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Democratic and Republican governors on Friday urged residents to adhere to basic coronavirus mitigation strategies, like washing hands and wearing a mask, during the Labor Day weekend.

Why it matters: 18 states saw rising coronavirus caseloads over the last week, including seven where daily infections were up by more than 50%, per a weekly Axios tracker.