Airlines Eliminate Middle Seats, Reduce Food and Beverage Service

Major U.S. air carriers are making sweeping policy changes to their services and policies in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, implementing measures to minimize flight attendant-to-customer interaction, maximize the distance between passengers and discourage customers congregating by shutting down airport lounge areas.

According to CNN Business, the implementation of several of these strategies is made easier because many of those flights that are still in operation are flying with only 20- to 30-percent of passenger seating filled.

American Airlines, Delta and Southwest have all issued announcements that they’re scaling back food-and-beverage service in an effort to cut costs and reduce the number of items being handled by cabin crew.

American Airlines

American Airlines’ temporary changes come with an assurance that full service will resume once the coronavirus situation has stabilized, and that the company expects to soon make snacks and bottled water available at the gate.

From March 27 through April 30, on flights under 2,200 miles (typically about 4.5 hours):

—No meals will be served in First Class

—No snacks or food will be available for purchase

—No alcohol will be served in the Main Cabin, although it will be available in First Class

—Beverage choices (upon request) will be limited to water, canned beverages or juice

On Flights over 2,200 miles, including transcontinental and Hawaii flights:

—Alcohol will be available in First Class, but not in the Main Cabin (except on long-haul international flights);

—Standard beverage service will continue as usual

—Meals in all cabins will be served on a single tray

—No food or snacks will be available for purchase

In accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) social-distancing guidelines, American is also relaxing its seating policies, blocking off 50 percent of middle seats, instructing gate agents to reassign seats as needed to maximize space between passengers, in some instances, allowing fliers to switch seats within their ticketed cabin.

Effective March 26, all of American’s Admiral’s Club lounge services—including food and beverage offerings, restrooms and shower facilities—will be temporarily suspended and most locations closed entirely. Checked pet service is also being suspended, though carry-on pets and service/support animals are still permitted.

Your safety is important. We’ve made changes to our seat assignments and service offerings to allow for social distancing and less interaction while in flight.

Delta Air Lines

Effective immediately, on all U.S. domestic and short-haul international flights, Delta’s in-flight service has been streamlined to “decrease physical touch points on board”.

—Snack selections have been reduced to two

—Across all cabins, bottled water is the only beverage available

—Plastic cups and ice have been removed

—First Class and Delta One meal service is being replaced with individually pre-packaged Flight Fuel boxes

Across all U.S. domestic and international flights, Delta has already removed glassware and hotel-towel service from First Class and Delta One. Delta’s statement on the subject said that it’s also currently evaluating adjustments to be made to its long-haul international flying protocols. Separately, Delta Sky Club lounges have cut back food-and-beverage options, discontinued shower service and completely closed in many locations.

Southwest Airlines

While Southwest doesn’t operate lounges or first-class cabins, the airline is also making some changes to protect the health of its crew and customers, informed by health officials’ recommendations for limiting close public interactions. It’s temporarily suspending all in-flight snack and beverage services, with the exception of canned water, available upon request.

United Airlines

United hasn’t announced any alterations to its onboard service, as yet. The airline commented to CNN Business that it has no immediate plans to make the types of changes instituted by its competitors, but has adjusted protocols so that its flight attendants wear gloves, beverage cups are no longer being refilled and snacks are being served from a tray, rather than allowing guests to pick their own.

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