Less than a week after announcing it would end its policy on blocking middle seats and return to flying at capacity, United Airlines defended its decision today.
And boy did it really defend its decision.
In a potentially controversial statement, United chief communications officer Josh Earnest said on a conference call that “When it comes to blocking middle seats, that’s a PR strategy, that’s not a safety strategy.”
It was a bold assessment considering United originally had joined fellow carriers American, Delta, JetBlue and Southwest in blocking middle seats to help slow the spread of COVID-19. But last week, both American and United said it would return to selling all available seats, as did Canadian carriers Air Canada and WestJet.
That drew the ire of the Centers for Disease Control virologist Dr. Robert Redfield, who said at a Congressional hearing that “We don’t think it’s the right message.”
But Earnest defended United’s decision.
“When you’re on board the aircraft, if you’re sitting in the aisle, and the middle seat is empty, the person across the aisle is within six feet from you, the person at the window is within six feet of you, the people in the row in front of you are within six feet of you, the person in the row behind you are within six feet of you,” he said according to CNBC.
American issued a statement of its own, saying “We are unwavering in our commitment to the safety and well-being of our customers and team members. We have 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.”
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