On July 1, American Airlines stopped blocking the middle seat on its flights, a policy that was put in place in April in an effort to maintain social distancing among passengers in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. That same day, the United States reported a record high of 52,358 new coronavirus cases.
The daily total has dipped below 50,000 twice since then. Even as the U.S. continues to see an uptick in new cases, companies like American and United, have defiantly chosen to ignore the well-being of their customers in the name of profit.
This was highlighted when Joy Gonzalez took a June 30 flight from Dallas to Newark. Seated at the window, Gonzalez wanted to keep a safe distance from the two older passengers sitting beside her in the middle and aisle seats.
Since the two rows behind her were empty, Gonzalez and the person sitting in the aisle seat decided to move over to occupy a seat in those unused rows. Prior to takeoff, they were told to return to their assigned seats since they hadn't paid for the more expensive exit row seats. A second flight attendant gave her an ultimatum: Either she return to her original seat or go pay for an exit seat by returning to the gate. She chose the former.
"The irony of then hearing on the public address system, 'Your health and safety is our top priority,'" Gonzalez told the New York Times. "Behind me, seats went empty and wasted while I was squished and touching someone."
Ross Feinstein, spokesperson for American Airlines, told NYT that the restriction "appears to be in error, as we are permitting customers to move within the main cabin, including Main Cabin Extra seats." Others called out American over the treatment of their passengers during a pandemic.
Earlier today, another American passenger complained about being on a flight that "packed us in like cattle."
One day after the American Airlines' middle seat rule was officially lifted, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley criticized the company for being "incredibly irresponsible" while posting a photo of his packed flight.
Delta and Southwest will continue to block off their middle seat until, at least, September 30.
In April, American Airlines received a total of $5.8 billion from the Payroll Support Program through the CARES Act. The financial support is meant to "support team member salaries and benefits" with $4.1 billion coming from a direct grant, and the remaining $1.7 billion as part of a low-interest rate loan. American said the company also planned on applying for a $4.75 billion loan from the U.S. Treasury.