Fewer flights lead­ing to more pas­sen­ger crowd­ing on planes

Orlando Sentinel - - Wall Street Report - By DAVID KOENIG

Ev­ery once in a while, so­cial me­dia lights up with pho­tos or video from flights that are nearly full, with pas­sen­gers clearly vi­o­lat­ing ad­vice from pub­lic health of­fi­cials about so­cial distancing dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

That raises the ques­tion: How can planes still be full when air travel is down more than 90% from a year ago?

In some cases, air­lines are cre­at­ing the crowds by can­cel­ing other flights and pack­ing pas­sen­gers on the few re­main­ing planes. Car­ri­ers say, how­ever, they are tak­ing ac­tion to ease pas­sen­gers’ fears about coro­n­avirus con­ta­gion.

Some are block­ing mid­dle seats — or let­ting pas­sen­gers pay ex­tra to guar­an­tee an empty seat next to them. They are also start­ing to re­quire pas­sen­gers to wear fa­cial cov­er­ings.

Here are some ques­tions and an­swers about fly­ing dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. even more flights in the last few days be­fore de­par­ture. That can force pas­sen­gers who were booked on sev­eral dif­fer­ent flights to board the same plane.

Sev­eral car­ri­ers are block­ing some mid­dle seats. Delta Air Lines said Tues­day that through June 30, it will also block some win­dow and aisle seats, leav­ing 50% of first class and 60% of the main cabin empty. South­west CEO Gary Kelly said his air­line will tem­po­rar­ily cap the num­ber of seats it sells, prob­a­bly at 67% of ca­pac­ity.

Fron­tier Air­lines said Mon­day that through Aug. 31 it will guar­an­tee pas­sen­gers get an empty mid­dle seat next to them — if they pay an ex­tra fee rang­ing from $39 to $89.

“Sure, there are peo­ple say­ing, ‘You’re charg­ing for so­cial distancing?’ No, no, no,” Fron­tier CEO Barry Bif­fle told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “We are of­fer­ing the op­tion, and it is guar­an­teed.

“We don’t be­lieve you need it — if ev­ery­body is wear­ing a fa­cial cov­er­ing — to be safe.”

So far, other car­ri­ers haven’t copied Fron­tier. air­lines have an­nounced plans to start re­quir­ing pas­sen­gers to wear fa­cial cov­er­ings dur­ing flights.

JetBlue Air­ways was the first to an­nounce the pol­icy, which took ef­fect Mon­day. The big four — Delta, American, United and South­west — fol­lowed suit in re­cent days.

Air­lines say they won’t let cus­tomers with­out masks board a plane. Small chil­dren and peo­ple with med­i­cal con­di­tions that make a mask haz­ardous will gen­er­ally be ex­empt, and oth­ers will be al­lowed to briefly re­move cov­er­ings while eat­ing or drink­ing.

The air­lines are also re­quir­ing crew mem­bers to wear face masks.

Ev­ery air­line says it has stepped up the clean­ing of plane cab­ins to help pre­vent spread of the coro­n­avirus. Some, like Delta, say they are us­ing mist­ing ma­chines to spray an­tivi­ral chem­i­cals in­side the cabin.

Air­lines in­sist that the air in­side their planes is safe to breathe. Cabin air on most jet­lin­ers is a mix of fresh air from the out­side and re­cir­cu­lated air that is passed through high-ef­fi­ciency or HEPA fil­ters de­signed to trap most air­borne par­ti­cles.

VINCE WAR­BUR­TON/AP

Pas­sen­gers exit a plane in Los An­ge­les. Air travel is down 90%, but can­cel­la­tions are cre­at­ing crowded flights.

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