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United Airlines spokesperson says keeping middle seats open is ‘a PR strategy, that’s not a safety strategy’

Josh Earnest, who is United’s chief communications officer, told CNN open middle seats might not matter

SHARE United Airlines spokesperson says keeping middle seats open is ‘a PR strategy, that’s not a safety strategy’
United Airlines planes are parked at gates at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

United Airlines planes are parked at gates at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, N.J., Wednesday, July 1, 2020.

Seth Wenig, Associated Press

Keeping middle seats open might be a form of theater rather than something that makes a difference, according to Josh Earnest, United’s chief communications officer.

What’s going on:

  • United Airlines is one airline company that plans to sell middle seats on its fight amid the coronavirus pandemic and calls for social distancing.
  • The company said it will limit capacity on flights, though.
  • But United’s Earnest told CNN (via Inc.) that “keeping the seat next to you open is not going to make a material difference.” 
  • Earnest said: “When it comes to blocking middle seats, that’s a PR strategy, that’s not a safety strategy.”
  • He said blocking middle seats probably doesn’t help.
  • Earnest said: “It is very very difficult, if not impossible to socially distance onboard an aircraft. What is going to make a material difference is wearing a mask, and having a high-quality air filter, and thoroughly cleaning the plane before you get on board.”

That said ...

  • Earnest said there are precautions you can take to stay safe, according toZDNET.
  • “If you want to stay safe on the airplane, we need to wear a mask. We need to have good air filtration. The airplane needs to be thoroughly cleaned, and we need to make sure that every stage of your journey, where we can socially distance, that we’re doing that. Those are all the steps that scientists have recommended that we take.”

On American Airlines:

  • Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., posted a photo over the weekend of himself on an American Airlines flight, which was packed with people. He called it “incredibly irresponsible,” according to USA Today.
  • He said: “This is incredibly irresponsible. People eat & drink on planes & must take off masks to do so. No way you aren’t facilitating spread of COVID infections.”
  • He said he will “introduce a bill to ban the sale of middle seats through this pandemic. And I’ll work with colleagues to include it in a package of airline accountability reforms they are crafting.”