Quit The Outrage Over Full Flights And Lack Of Social Distance On Planes

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‘:

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:

  1. Masks should be worn

  2. 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.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I would like to remind everyone that every coronavirus in the US was a result of someone traveling on a plane or cruise ship.we stopped cruises but are allowing people for, high risk areas get on a jet and travel to a low risk area. Real mitigation is focusing on the problem areas and containing it. What we are doing is insanity.

  2. Agree completely. Unlike The Points Guy where all they are doing is acting like Big Brother, telling readers we can’t do so and so until it is “safe.”

    As for anyone complaining: DON’T fly. Frankly, it is none of your business why anyone is flying. None. You don’t NEED to know if someone has a “reason” to fly. If they are on a plane, they have a reason, and no one appointed you judge and jury, Karen. No one is making you fly, either.

    Also, it’s not airborne, for Pete’s sake. You can cover your mouth when you cough by coughing or sneezing into your elbow, especially in the window seat, which is better than a mask, and you can carry a sweatshirt or something. Some people suffer from issues that constrict them with a mask over their face, but that doesn’t mean they cough on you. This one-size-fits-all mentality is ridiculous. You CANNOT sneeze in your cloth mask. Is anyone even thinking?

    I am flying next week and I am not sure what sort of wildness to expect. I have not been on a plane since March–well, except for my own flight lesson, but that was a two seater.

  3. Thank you, Suz! (And sidebar–thank you, Doug!) I agree with every word–I like the Karen reference, too. 🙂
    My God, we are all witness to a great madness…

  4. I’m down for everyone flying as much as they want to right now, so long as they self-sanitize with bleach afterwards.

  5. Actually it is airborne, of course it is, there have been too many studies that show it is that even the worst right wing nut bag cannot refute it. Everyone needs to wear a mask, full stop. You sneeze or cough into a tissue, obviously, not the mask, then put that tissue in a baggie and close it immediately. If you are too f**king lazy to do that, then you don’t fly.

  6. @Belinda
    Actually is the Fu***n idiots like you that should not fly, and certainly not allowed to procreate

  7. @Doug
    With you completely on this. An astounding number of people have shown themselves for what they are–weak and weak-minded, frightened, juvenile–all expressing itself in a repulsive display of totalitarianism. Facts mean nothing to this mob. They are beyond them–and beyond reach.
    I’ll give it one more shot: https://www.drbrownstein.com/dr-bs-blog/ and more thorough with three dozen citations: https://www.oralhealthgroup.com/features/face-masks-dont-work-revealing-review/

  8. Face masks have become a cottage industry; well-intentioned people all over the world are making them at home and distributing them to those they perceive to be in need ( …in that regard, a little like the knitting of socks/baking of cakes for soldiers in wartime, although decidedly less useful). In fact, as useless as tits on a bull.
    Unless the masks are N95, they don’t filter/afford any real protection against small particles…and the erroneous belief that they do protect is simply dangerous, offering false security. The suggestion that they’re ‘better than nothing’ is very dubious.
    It’s appalling that the orange blob and his band of whackos have mismanaged this so abysmally. Now they look to con people into dangerous behaviour so that shareholders don’t lose too much equity.
    Social distancing should be maintained until a vaccine is ready, painful though it is. At least by then there’ll be a President who cares…

  9. Update : Masks are required for all passengers and crew for most airlines ( still a few have not mandated masks ) …Let Sara Nelson speak for the thousands of crew members who have no choice to fly. It is there job . For those of you that don’t /cannot wear a mask in flight please stay away from planes and take a bus

  10. Update : Masks are required for all passengers and crew for most airlines ( still a few have not mandated masks ) …Let Sara Nelson speak for the thousands of crew members who have no choice to fly. It is their job . For those of you that don’t /cannot wear a mask in flight please stay away from planes and take a bus .

  11. @RS: Flight attendants have choice. If they believe the job they are doing exceeds their risk tolerance they should seek other employment. Every job has risk – from Alaska crab fishing to operating machinery in a factory to pushing paper in an office. Flight attendants know about the risk of disease transmission as part of their occupation. Furthermore, many airlines are currently offering high-risk pay protection (or leaves of absence) for those FAs who have health conditions that put them at greater risk. Saying FAs don’t have a choice just is false.

  12. Let’s establish this one fact… if everyone wore a mask when they flew the chances of the virus
    being spread would be substantially reduced. Is it foolproof? Of course not, but it’s the easiest way
    to help making flying safer for everyone. There is no good reason to not wear one but there is a compelling argument in favor. Very sad how this has been politicized too and a great example of the dangers we are facing because we are unable to pull together as a country under the current leadership.

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