American Airlines Starts Blocking Seats For Social Distancing

Filed Under: American

About a week ago I wrote about how United Airlines is helping people social distance. The airline started asking gate agents to proactively reseat people on empty flights to maximize space between people (and based on the looks of it, flights are empty).

Well, American Airlines has now announced a similar initiative.

How American Airlines is helping with social distancing

Kurt Stache, American’s SVP of Customer Experience, has another one of his lovely video messages sharing how American is looking after customers (I don’t get why they can’t also write out what he’s saying, so that we don’t have to watch these videos to figure out what’s going on).

I’ve written about some of American’s initiatives already, like them suspending most inflight service. But there’s one thing that seems to be new for the airline, as American Airlines is taking measures to help passengers self distance.

As it’s explained:

“Our gate agents can reassign seats to create more seats between you and other travelers. to help make this easier, we are blocking half of all middle seats. Once boarding is complete, customers have the flexibility to move to another seat within their cabin. Of course there may be restrictions, and this is not guaranteed.”

Apparently this policy applies through May 31, 2020, and is subject to weight and balance. Interestingly American is taking a different approach than United here — United wants gate agents to reseat people so that weight and balance doesn’t become an issue, while American is making some efforts prior to boarding, and is also telling people to reseat themselves once boarding is complete.

American’s seat blocking in action

It’s also interesting that the airline is going to be blocking half of middle seats. I’m not sure if that means they actually wouldn’t sell a flight to capacity, or if it just means that if a flight isn’t very full, then they’ll block some middle seats.

For what it’s worth, many flights look so empty that I’m not sure much social distancing efforts are even needed on those.

Here’s one example of this seat blocking at work on a Dallas to Charlotte flight this morning:

As you can see, middle seats throughout the plane are blocked. However, ironically people are crammed into the back of the plane, while closer to the front (this isn’t even Main Cabin Extra) we see blocked middle seats with no one seated on either side.

Also, who the heck are all of these people who are flying?!

Bottom line

For the most part flights are really empty right now, though I imagine they’ll start to get fuller, as airlines significantly cut capacity. In general I appreciate American’s efforts here, as they’re starting to block middle seats and also tell passengers they can move around.

Lufthansa has taken an initiative like this even further, by blocking all middle seats on flights from Germany.

  1. My son flew home early last week from DFW to XNA, the pre assigned seating had everyone in economy clustered in the back few rows of the plane with the front half wide open and only a couple of people in the large pay extra for economy section so he specifically paid for a seat on a mostly empty plane (ordinarily he wouldn’t have done so) with empty rows in front of and behind him as well as the seats next to him. He knew the section might have more people by fly time, but at boarding (he was watching the seating chart right up to the last minute it showed on the app) they seated a man in the seat right next to him… with the rows around them empty! The plane was only about 1/4 full. The flight attendant also did not redistribute the passengers for social distancing or for equalizing weight distribution. It appeared as if the talk about weight distrubution may not mean as much as they project.

  2. To answer your question about who is flying – generally, people reuniting with their extended families, especially as illness (Covid-19 or otherwise) requires family visits.

    There’s very little business travel, of course, and leisure travel has also fallen through the floor. But people still need to get to their families if they don’t live in the same city / town – if mom needs help, or dad is alone, if a brother needs help with the kids when he’s undergoing chemo or working shifts, or if a sister passes away – the planes are all we have. You can’t telecommute to everything.

  3. This will be remembered by humanity as the year where our collective hindsight still ain’t 20/20.

  4. Lucky I feel like in the past two weeks you’ve been taking a very single minded approach to people traveling during this crisis. You are very privileged as to the fact that you were able to push off or cancel all your travel plans for the next few weeks but there are plenty of people that for various valid reasons do need to travel. Maybe you should be a little more understanding and not judge and question everybody who chooses to travel right now.

  5. Frustrating this isn’t policy on all flights and all middle seats. Now is the time to demand this of airlines if they are getting a bail out from tax payers.

  6. I flew LAX-DFW-TLH on AA yesterday (getting home). On LAX/DFW, flight attendants separated people after we were boarded. Even couples were told to take an aisle and a window with a seat between them. Not that anyone was offered opportunity to move forward to the almost empty “preferred” (Pay) seats. Only service offered was a glass of water.
    On DFW-TLH there were so few people that there was no need for any intervention. But again, the approx 10 of us were all in the back, cause can’t move to those precious preferred seats. There was one couple in first class, and I thought they must be so happy to be paying a premium for the minimal extra space afforded on a regional jet. 🙂 However, on the regional even in couch we got full can of soda and some pretzels. I saved the pretzels, because I wasn’t sure what I had at home 😉


  8. For weight and balance reasons on lighter booked flights sometimes we have to move passengers on the A321 back behind a certain row number (that row number varies). So that may be part of the reason the rows toward the back may not have their middle seats blocked.

  9. This is BS. I flew from Charlotte to Atlanta yesterday and was seated shoulder to shoulder with a stranger. There were no announcements advising us to remain 6 feet apart, and boarding and deplaning were the usual crowding.

  10. AA is selling all seats in revenue producing upgrade sections.
    Money first.
    AA has been a real pain. They were selling me seats on flights that they knew were already cancelled. They just lied through their teeth. Now, can I get my money back?
    So dishonest. A scam to squeeze pennies out of their loyal customers.

  11. They are not social distancing… they are booking flights as though they are but then cancel that flight and join them with rest. The past two flights I have been on are full flights… including the middle seat.

  12. American is NOT practicing social distancing, despite their claims. I booked a first class seat as I travel for work and am an essential worker. The first class cabin is full, so I asked to sit in coach. She could not guarantee that I would have social distance in coach. As they cancel flights, they fill up the remaining flights. The agent told me they had to be profitable, and I responded “At the cost of people’s health and possibly lives?” She didn’t have an answer for that. It seems to be lip service and they are not backing down or trying to be understanding. Next time I’ll fly on Delta.

  13. I would like to actually add to this. I booked an American Airlines flight from New York to London in April. It had to go via Miami. Prior to booking it said on the website that they were to uphold social distancing and event the picture above was similar, where they stated that seats will be blocked to adhere to this. However, upon entering the plane, I quickly found out that the plane was fully booked and only a couple of seats spare in business class. Everyone was rattled considering they had all been lied to and the staff were just telling people to sit down. You have to remember covid 19 is killing people, it’s not a normal thing, and for an airline to lie on their website, with complete disregard go against their own promises for the sack of revenue, shows how much they really care about their passengers. I have written a complaint and all they responded with was “we are sorry, we can’t do anything if it’s fully booked”?!! Don’t say that on your website if you have to plans to uphold the statement. Second to that, it was actually a direct flight but they changed it to go via miami as there weren’t enough passengers for the direct flight from New York, which means it’s totally about revenue and not about potentially killing their own customers!

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