Despite saying it would leave middle seats empty as a way of maintaining social distancing practices and helping stop the spread of the coronavirus, United Airlines is under fire after a doctor tweeted a photo of a packed flight.
Dr. Ethan Weiss’ photo of what appears to be a full cabin with numerous middle seats occupied on a Saturday, May 9 flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to San Francisco International has resulted in more than 26,000 likes and nearly 4,000 replies as of Monday morning, May 11.
I guess @united is relaxing their social distancing policy these days? Every seat full on this 737 pic.twitter.com/rqWeoIUPqL
Weiss is a cardiologist and scientist at the University of California-San Francisco.
He was returning home after spending time working at a New York hospital to aid in the fight against COVID-19, according to USA Today.
Weiss told the paper he had no further comment beyond his tweets. Reached for a response, a United spokeswoman said the airline has taken steps to address the coronavirus.
“We’ve overhauled our cleaning and safety procedures and implemented a new boarding and deplaning process to promote social distancing,” spokeswoman Kimberly Gibbs said in an email to USA Today. “Our flight to San Francisco had an additional 25 medical professionals on board who were flying for free to volunteer their time in New York. We’ve provided complimentary flights for more than 1,000 doctors and nurses in the past few weeks alone – and all passengers and employees were asked to wear face coverings, consistent with our new policy.”
Airlines have been slammed by low demand from travelers for the last two months, to the point where
Nicholas Calio, CEO of the industry lobby Airlines for America, testified before a U.S. Senate Committee that the situation is so dire that domestic flights are averaging just 17 passengers per plane.
But as carriers begin to downsize, cut routes and park planes no longer in use, it’s possible that popular routes between major cities will be filled with far more than 17 passengers per flight.
Weiss later replied to his own tweet and, while he thanked United for flying medical personnel for free, he noted that “people on this plane are scared/ shocked” and that for he himself it will be “the last time I’ll be flying again for a very long time.”
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