United Airlines on Monday said it will start notifying travelers when an upcoming flight is expected to be full or nearly full and allow concerned passengers to switch to a different flight or cancel and receive a travel credit.
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In this late Wednesday, June 26, 2019, photograph, United Airlines jetliners pass each other on the tarmac at Denver International Airport in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
The new policy, which comes just days after a doctor’s tweet about an unexpectedly packed flight from New Jersey to California went viral, begins next week and will continue through June 30, United said in a statement posted to its website.
The airline said more than 85% of its flights are less than half full due to the coronavirus pandemic, but that some flights are filling up as more cities and states begin to open.
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“Because our schedule is so reduced, there are a small number of flights where our customers are finding planes fuller than they expect,” the airline said in the statement.
I guess @united is relaxing their social distancing policy these days? Every seat full on this 737 pic.twitter.com/rqWeoIUPqL
In an effort to be “as transparent as possible” and give travelers options, United said it will do “its best” to contact passengers 24 hours before departure so they can adjust their plans before they head to the airport. The option will also be provided at the airport if more than 70% of the plane’s passengers have checked in.
United’s statement did not specify what it considers to be flights “closer to full capacity” but spokesman Charles Hobart said the general guideline will be flights more than 70% full.
On Saturday, a California doctor posted a photo on Twitter of his packed Boeing 737 on a flight from Newark to San Francisco. It went viral and United was heavily criticized for filling the plane while publicly promoting social distancing measures and other safety steps to convince travelers it is safe to fly.
“I guess @united is relaxing their social distancing policy these days? Every seat full on this 737,” Weiss tweeted. He is both a physician and a scientist at the University of California San Francisco who had been in New York working to aid with the coronavirus crisis.
Well @AmericanAir complete fail on social distancing parameters and execution on my first flight back! Guess that seat shuffling was just a little too tough to actually do, easy to promise however. Enjoy your $$
United acknowledged the plane was packed but said there were 25 empty seats on the 166-seat 737.
We always fly @SouthwestAir due to the professional service but this recent SW flight ✈️ which was not full was not what we were promised. NO social- distancing implemented as stated by SW. pic.twitter.com/AamS6rs32O
United isn’t the only airline facing criticism about unexpectedly full flights, of course. Other airline Twitter feeds are sprinkled with complaints, which are likely to grow as more people start traveling again.
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