Passengers flying different airlines report lack of social distancing, packed flights amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Monday, May 11, 2020
Flying during COVID-19 pandemic: Passengers report lack of social distancing, packed flights
Multiple passengers flying different airlines have similar stories of "lack of social distancing" on board and "packed" flights.

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KGO) -- Multiple passengers flying different airlines have similar stories of "lack of social distancing" on board and "packed" flights.

"I was petrified. It was absolutely ridiculous that we were so close to one another," said Orlando resident, Kayla Preston.

Preston landed at SFO on a Frontier Airlines flight where she says passengers were concerned about their safety during this pandemic.

"People were very upset asking why we don't have space. Why are we not having social distancing and seating on top of one another," said Preston.

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Frontier Airlines said to ABC7 News that Preston's flight was not packed and added in part, "the flight in question had a passenger load of 66 percent so the aircraft was around two-thirds occupied."

As to the middle seats that were occupied, Frontier Airlines says they are blocking a number of middle seats on each flight to help with social distancing.

A similar story was told by two San Francisco residents, Sam Kirchner and Elizabeth Berger. This time flying American Airlines.

"There were some empty seats in the middle but is not more than half," said Kirschner.

The Bay Area couple was flying to Philadelphia on what they reported was a packed flight.

"Even if you have anybody who's in the middle seats I think that's overcapacity. If you have to be on this flight and you touch the person next to you and they take off their mask to eat they are breathing right next to you. The closer people are the more is concerning," said Kirschner.

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The couple avoided removing their masks and said one of the passengers in the middle seat was a pilot.

American Airlines later confirmed to ABC7 News that there was a pilot in a middle seat from a different airline flying stand by.

Elizabeth Berger says the middle seat between Kirschner and her was empty but multiple middle seats around them were occupied.

"We both had masks and wore those the whole time. I had a bandana but I switched to a more secure mask because I felt uneasy about the whole thing," said Berger.

American Airlines said to ABC7 News that the flight was not "packed" and explained that 25% of their seats were not occupied and said in a statement:

"American will limit the number of passengers on each aircraft. As part of this limit, American will not assign 50% of main cabin middle seats or seats near flight attendant jump seats on every flight, and will only use those middle seats when necessary. Gate agents will also continue to reassign seats to create more space between customers or to accommodate families who need to be seated together. Once onboard - as long as there aren't any aircraft weight or balance restrictions - customers can move to another seat within their ticketed cabin subject to availability."

Both American Airlines and Frontier Airlines are requiring that all passengers and team members wear facial coverings during flights.

"Frontier is the first and currently the only airline in the U.S. that has announced we will be implementing temperature screenings for all passengers and team members. That will go into effect in the coming weeks. At present, we require that all passengers complete a health acknowledgment during check-in confirming that they have not exhibited symptoms of Covid-19 nor been exposed to anyone who is ill within the past 14 days and that they will check their temperature before heading to the airport. Also, all of our aircraft feature HEPA filtration systems capable of capturing respiratory particles at more than 99.7 percent efficiency, and our aircraft are routinely fogged with a disinfecting solution effective against coronavirus as well as regularly deep cleaned. This very aggressive, multi-faceted approach is designed to keep our passengers healthy when flying with us. Our customers can feel confident and travel with peace of mind when flying Frontier."

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