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American Airlines, United Airlines to Lift Limits on Seating Capacity

Travel + Leisure logo Travel + Leisure 6/29/2020 Alison Fox
a large passenger jet flying through a cloudy blue sky: Delta, Southwest, and more have extended their capacity limits. © SOPA Images/Getty Delta, Southwest, and more have extended their capacity limits.

Both American Airlines and United Airlines will fill flights to full capacity going forward, the carriers confirmed to Travel + Leisure, even as COVID-19 continues to spread in many states across the United States.

American Airlines will lift capacity restrictions on flights starting July 1, a rep confirmed. The announcement reverses the airline’s decision to limit flights to 85 percent capacity, a policy that had been in place since April.

Once onboard, the spokeswoman said, American will allow passengers to move to a different seat within their ticketed cabin if it’s available.

The decision also comes as American’s Chief Executive Doug Parker said the airline expects furloughs could be in its future, anticipating having 10 to 20 percent more workers than they need in July 2021, Reuters reported, even as the airline increases domestic routes and reintroduces international flights.

“It’s going to be even harder than I thought,” Parker said at an employee town hall last week, according to Reuters, adding, “revenue is not coming back as fast as we’d like.”

A rep for United Airlines told T+L the airline would continue its policy of notifying customers 24 hours before their flight if it is likely to be full and allowing them to either rebook on a different flight or receive a travel credit. That policy went into effect after a photo of a full flight went viral, generating backlash.

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“The overwhelming majority of customers choose to keep their travel plans,” the spokesman explained to T+L.

Conversely, fellow U.S. airlines have extended policies that limit onboard seating. Delta Air Lines will extend caps on seating and blocking middle seats through Sept. 30, limiting seating in the main cabin to no more than 60 percent.

Southwest will keep middle seats open through at least Sept. 30, and Alaska Airlines will do the same through July 31.

Even as they pack the planes with more people, both American and United have reinforced their mask policies. Earlier this month, United said it would temporarily ban people who refuse to wear a mask, and American removed a man from a flight when he wouldn’t put one on.

United also requires passengers to acknowledge they are symptom-free as part of the check-in process. American will implement a similar policy starting June 30.

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