With restaurants and other businesses cut to half occupancy (or less), airlines are packing customers to near capacity, Axios Markets editor Dion Rabouin writes.
- Why it matters: The practice shows how a lack of a national policy allows certain companies — like airlines — to continue to put Americans at risk for exposure to COVID-19 while other companies miss out on revenue by adhering to local regulations.
How it works: In March, most airlines reduced the number of flights by as much as 80% through the end of May. As travel has picked up, carriers have simply loaded new passengers onto the few remaining scheduled flights.
- Airlines could reinstate laid off pilots and restart flights to accommodate newly increased demand, but have chosen not to.
What's happening: Delta instituted a rule "capping seating at 50% capacity in first class and 60% capacity in the main cabin and keeping middle seats blocked."
- American Airlines has a policy to "not assign 50% of main cabin middle seats or seats near flight attendant jump seats." However, it does not put a hard cap on bookings and maintains the right to "use those middle seats when necessary."
- American representatives have told passengers that flights will only be booked at 50% capacity. But it is not enforcing that cap and has been operating flights with nearly every seat filled.
- United said it will allow passengers to rebook or receive a travel credit if they end up on flights that are close to full capacity.
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Transportation Committee, sent a letter this week to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao urging her department to issue national social-distancing guidelines for aviation.
- The guidance "should clearly lead the airlines to either keep middle or adjacent seats open, or limit capacity of aircraft to a level that allows adequate social distancing," Cantwell says.
- Her letter referenced many outraged tweets from passengers on packed flights.
The big picture: Airline revenue was down 98% for the week ended May 10 compared to the year before, according to trade group Airlines for America.
- TSA agents screened 253,807 passengers Sunday — off 90% from a year ago.
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