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CDC chief blasts American Airlines for not blocking seats: ‘We don’t think it’s the right message’

  • July 01, 2020

American Airlines came under fire at a Senate hearing Tuesday for its decision to stop blocking seats in the name of social distancing beginning Wednesday.

Health officials expressed frustration with the Dallas-based carrier’s move, which was announced last week, when Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders asked why the government has not issued guidelines prohibiting social-distancing violations on flights.

“Why haven’t we stopped that type of activity in both the airlines and bus companies that is unhealthy?” Sanders asked.

“It’s a critical area,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “When they announced that the other day, obviously there was substantial disappointment with American Airlines.”

Redfield said the CDC was reviewing American Airlines’ policy and added, “We don’t think it’s the right message.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, told the hearing that the lack of social distancing on planes is worrisome.

American plans to begin selling middle seats again. United, Spirit and Allegiant already do.

“Obviously that is something that is of concern,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said. “I would hope that there would be something to mitigate against that.”

Fauci said that, in the confines of airplanes, potential coronavirus spread “becomes even more problematic.”

American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein did not address health officials’ concerns when asked for a statement, instead reiterating the airline’s position that other health and safety protocols already in place protect passengers.

“We are unwavering in our commitment to the safety and well-being of our customers and team members,” the statement said. “We have multiple layers of protection in place for those who fly with us, including [requiring] 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. We know our customers are placing their trust in us to make every aspect of their journey safe, and we are committed to doing just that.”

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