American Airlines resumed filling its planes at full capacity on Wednesday, abandoning certain precautions against COVID-19, which provoked the disapproval of health authorities at the time when the pandemic explodes in a part of the United States.
If other large American companies such as Delta Air Lines had decided in May to block seats to respect social distancing on board their aircraft, other carriers, such as United Airlines, had not taken such measures since the passengers had then deserted the air.
The decision of American Airlines comes at a time when the acceleration of the reopening of the economy coincides with a new outbreak of the pandemic.
“American Airlines disappointed us a lot” when it made the announcement on Friday, said Director of the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) Robert Redfield before the Senate health committee on Tuesday.
“We don’t think this is the right message,” he added.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease expert at the National Institute of Health, also criticized the decision when without more preventive measures, the number of infections could climb to 100,000 per day, he warned .
“Obviously, (the decision of American Airlines) is something of concern. I do not know what motivated this decision, “he said before the Senate.
“I think that in the confined space of an aircraft, it is all the more problematic,” he said.
The new coronavirus has already killed more than 127,000 people in the United States and the country still has more than 42,000 new infections daily, according to the latest count from Johns Hopkins University, which references.
And due to the increase in contamination and deaths, especially in the south and west of the country, some American states have had to pause in the deconfinement process.
American Airlines thus seems to take the opposite view from the precautionary principle.
“We are adamant in our commitment to the safety and well-being of our customers and members of our team,” said a spokesman for AFP.
He also highlighted the “different layers of protection in place” for travelers, citing the wearing of a mandatory mask, improved cleaning procedures and a “checklist of COVID-19 symptoms before the flight”.
The company also offers its customers the possibility of modifying their travel plans when they are informed that their flight will be full, at no additional cost until September 30.
Conversely, Delta had announced on Friday that it would continue to block the seats in the middle of its planes until September 30.
Other carriers like Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Frontier also continue to limit their capacities.
Air travel is struggling at the moment due to international travel restrictions. Companies are therefore trying to win back customers on domestic flights.
In its defense, American argues that it disinfects all planes from top to bottom, “including the buckles of belts, seats, trays and other surfaces”.
Like all air carriers, it also applies an electrostatic jet inside the plane “which kills 99.9999% of viruses and bacteria in 10 minutes,” said the spokesman.
“American is the only airline on the network to use a product (…) that provides continuous protection for seven days against bacteria, mold and viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, ”he argued.
Finally, “the air filtration system (…) provides complete air renewal every two to four minutes, similar to the standard for hospitals,” he said.
Asked by AFP about the lack of general instructions, the aviation authorities said that “the Department of Transport and the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) have made it clear that passengers must wear masks when traveling by plane”.
And they appeal to the civic sense of the population to follow the recommendations of the CDC and those of the International Civil Aviation Organization.