Passengers on American Airlines flights that had dreamed of having a row to themselves will have to rein in those expectations.
On Friday, the carrier said it will no longer restrict the number of seats sold on flights beginning July 1, as it tries to claw back from the unprecedented blow coronavirus lockdowns have delivered to the global airline industry.
The announcement comes before a meeting between the chief executives of major United States airlines, including American, and senior US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, at the White House to discuss several virus-related travel issues and to press for government-administered temperature checks for airline passengers.
US airlines are bleeding cash as travel suffers in the pandemic and some have warned that capping seats sold on each flight to allow for more space between passengers is not financially viable.
American previously limited its seating capacity at 85 percent on each flight, or roughly 50 percent of the main cabin middle seats.
The company will notify customers if their flight will be full and allow them to move to more open flights when available, mirroring a United Airlines policy.
Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines have said they will continue limiting seating capacity through September.
The Allied Pilots Association, which represents American Airlines’ pilots, wants the government to subsidise empty seats to reassure people about flying.
American’s shares shed 5 percent on the news.
Airlines are touting deep cleaning and hospital-grade air filters. American said it had teamed with Vanderbilt University Medical Center on health and cleaning matters and starting June 30 will begin to ask customers during the check-in process to certify they have been free of COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days.
US passenger numbers have rebounded from lows reached in April, but there is growing concern about the effect of a fresh spike in coronavirus cases in many US states, including Texas, where American is based.
US Representative Peter DeFazio, who chairs the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wants airlines to keep seats open, noting Congress awarded them $25bn to cover payroll through September 30. “Through that time period they can afford to operate with spacing,” he told Reuters news agency.