Stop blaming and shaming airlines on social media for full flights and passengers failing to wear masks.
Airlines are taking steps to encourage social distancing. For instance American and United have been blocking middle seats from assignment in advance. And Delta has stopped doing upgrades prior to day of departure at the airport. A lot more seating assignment work has to happen at the gate rather than just leaving things in the hands of passengers.
However with airlines cutting back on flights, some of those flights do wind up full, or at least nowhere close to empty. And that means passengers aren’t all that far apart from each other.
There’s a new cottage industry of outrage online over this. Here’s Sara Nelson the ‘most powerful flight attendant in America‘:
ENOUGH! This was TODAY on a four hour flight. This is not okay. Masks must be mandated by DOT/HHS in airports and on airplanes. Essential travel only, with proper PPE. #COVID19 #StopTheSpread pic.twitter.com/TzwJyVRBoD
— Sara Nelson (@FlyingWithSara) April 27, 2020
Is it cynical of me to wonder whether it’s an accident that she tweets out of a photo of an American Airlines flight? Nelson heads the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA which does not represent American Airlines flight attendants but would like to, and wants to undermine that Association of Professional Flight Attendants suggesting they aren’t protecting their members who fly for American.
However Ms. Nelson has (2) complaints:
- Masks should be worn
- Non-essential travel should be banned
There’s a third common complaint, that people shouldn’t be permitted to fly in middle seats to promote distancing.
Sara Nelson doesn’t know the reasons each of the people in this photo are traveling. Medical personnel aren’t the only ones who need to fly. Someone might be traveling to spend last moments with a dying loved one. They might be traveling to comply with a court order, bringing a child to stay with another parent.
Moreover there are parts of the country that are not under lockdown, where people are not subject to stay at home orders. There are counties without confirmed cases of coronavirus. That doesn’t mean there aren’t asymptomatic carriers. But while there are some ‘self-quarantine on arrival’ orders for passengers traveling out of the New York area to certain destinations, or to Hawaii, there are no broad bans on air travel. In fact the CARES Act required maintaining air service at levels far beyond what’s necessary to support current passenger demand.
And I guess I’m shocked that people are shocked there would be others sitting near them on a plane. Why would anyone think the airline was selling them a ticket but not selling tickets to other people?
- if you want to guarantee an empty seat beside you, buy one.
- if you are concerned about sitting near other people it may not be a good idea to fly right now.
- if your problem is with other passengers not wearing masks, blame the passengers. Nelson wants the government to require it, American Airlines committed to provide masks to passengers, and JetBlue will require it without government getting involved – expect other airlines to follow.
Merely seeing other passengers beside each other isn’t a problem if you don’t know their story. There’s nothing wrong with members of the same household not social distancing from each other.
Empty middle seats aren’t a panacea in any case, if the person sitting behind you sneezed space to your side doesn’t protect you. And airlines aren’t doing anything wrong selling tickets for travel that people want to buy. Current federal policy is that airlines are supposed to sell tickets and take people where they’re trying to go.
Ultimately if you do not feel it is safe to fly, then do not fly. If you do fly, wear a mask (whether the government is requiring it or not). Bring hand sanitizer – the TSA has relaxed carry on liquid rules for this purpose. And wash your hands.