CDC director criticizes American Airlines' decision to book middle seats

WASHINGTON -- American Airlines' decision to open up middle seats for booking has drawn criticism from both the director of the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), virologist Dr. Robert Redfield, and White House Coronavirus Task Force member, immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The airline announced it would be ending its middle seat booking ban beginning July 1, allowing its flights to be booked to 100 percent capacity after more than two months of only booking to 85 percent in an effort to encourage social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The move has prompted criticism from health officials. During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing Tuesday, Redfield called the airline’s decision a “substantial disappointment,” and said it didn’t send “the right message,” TravelPulse reported.

Fauci expressed similar distress, stating the airline’s change was “something that is of concern.”

American Airlines defended its decision in a comment to Fox News, stating the airline has “multiple layers of protection in place for those who fly with us, including required face coverings, enhanced cleaning procedures, and a pre-flight COVID-19 symptom checklist — and we’re providing additional flexibility for customers to change their travel plans, as well.”

Though American Airlines – which had been booking flights to 85 percent capacity, meaning most middle seats were already occupied by travelers – caught criticism for its decision to book 100 percent of flights, it is not the only major carrier to do so.

United Airlines also revealed it would end its practice of blocking middle seats.

The airlines’ policy reversals come as several states have experienced spikes in the coronavirus and health officials have warned of a second wave of the virus.

Other major carriers like Delta, Southwest, Alaska Airlines and JetBlue have all committed to continue blocking middle seats in an effort to comply with CDC-recommended coronavirus protocols through at least July.

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