Bernie Sanders slammed American Airlines for its decision to start selling middle seats again during the pandemic

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  • Sen. Bernie Sanders slammed American Airlines on Tuesday for its decision to stop blocking middle seats and limiting capacity on its flights.
  • American announced the change last week. Other airlines, including United and Spirit, sell every seat on board, while Delta said it would continue limiting capacity on planes through at least September.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Robert Redfield also criticized the airline's decision, characterizing full airplanes and buses as something to avoid during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sen. Bernie Sanders slammed American Airlines on Tuesday for selling middle seats on flights, effectively abandoning the premise of social distancing on planes during the pandemic.

During a hearing of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Sanders criticized the airline, asking National Institute Of Allergy And Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Robert Redfield whether packed planes or buses were an inherent safety risk.

"You're going to have people going from New York to California, five or six hours, sitting inches apart from each other," Sanders said. "Why hasn't the government, whether it's the CDC or the Department of Transportation, issued guidelines, prohibiting those violations of what we all know to be common sense?"Advertisement

Dr. Fauci and Dr. Redfield agreed that full planes were not ideal.

"Obviously, that's something that is of concern," Dr. Fauci said. "Avoiding crowds, staying distant, and when in a situation like that, wear a mask — I think in the confines of an airplane, that becomes even more problematic."

"I can tell you that when they announced that the other day, obviously there was substantial disappointment with American Airlines," Dr. Redfield said.
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"I just hope very much that the CDC or the appropriate agency basically tells these companies that this is unacceptable behavior," Sanders added. "They're endangering the lives of Americans."

In a statement, American Airlines said it was "unwavering in our commitment to the safety and well-being of our customers and team members." "We have multiple layers of protection in place for those who fly with us, including required face coverings, enhanced cleaning procedures, and a pre-flight COVID-19 symptom checklist — and we're providing additional flexibility for customers to change their travel plans, as well," a company spokesperson told Business Insider.Advertisement

American Airlines announced last week that it would stop limiting capacity on its flights and blocking the middle seats, which it had been doing since April.

American is not the only carrier filling its flights. United will sell every seat on board, and has argued that social distancing is not possible on planes. Spirit, Frontier, and other low-cost-carriers have also continued to fill their planes.

Delta, however, has said it will cap flights at until at least the Sept. 30, blocking middle seats in economy and every other seat in first class. The airline has said it will add additional flights to routes where demand outpaces the limited capacity.Advertisement

According to American, the airline is taking other safety measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission on board. Those measures include mandatory masks, newly implemented cleaning and disinfection procedures, and requiring passengers to complete a health self-assessment before flights.

Airlines and industry representatives, including the International Air Transport Association, have argued that social distancing on flights is not necessary due to airflow patterns on planes, High Efficiency Particulate Air filters that prevent microbes in the air from recirculating, other cleaning measures, and the use of masks.

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