American Airlines never truly blocked middle seats during the pandemic the way that Delta, Southwest, and Alaska did. However back in April, May and June they did place limits on the number of seats they’d sell on an aircraft. They had been capping flights at 85% capacity, which blocks some middle seats so that customers would feel more comfortable flying in the current environment.
That policy went away over 10 months ago, and since then American Airlines passengers could expect all seats on a plane to be occupied – all the while Delta continued to offer empty middle seats to passengers until the end of last month.
The airline maintained that social distancing on board wasn’t necessary because of HEPA air filtration, downward air flow, cleaning regimens and masking. Yet they continued blocking some seats to maintain distance for flight attendants.
Flight attendants often shared with me that they were more concerned with distancing from each other, and avoiding talkative coworkers, than distancing from customers.
American limited seating by flight attendant jump seats where there aren’t solo jump seats and flight attendants would otherwise have to sit beside each other. Since May 1 American Airlines will assign these passenger seats if they need to.
Without offering beverages in coach, let alone food for sale, there hasn’t been much for flight attendants to do. So they’d often sit in these blocked seats throughout much of the flight.
That option will no longer be available on flights that are full. With beverage service returning to coach June 1 on American, there will be less downtime anyway.