United Issues Change After Doctor's Tweets

Airline will inform passengers when planes are almost full
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2020 2:31 PM CDT

(Newser) – United Airlines announced last month that it would keep the middle seats empty in its aircraft to allow for social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But that's not what Dr. Ethan Weiss found when he boarded his flight from Newark to San Francisco on Saturday. The associate professor at the University of California San Francisco, who'd just finished up two weeks of volunteering at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, tweeted a photo showing a plane packed with passengers he described as "scared/shocked." He also posted a screenshot of an email dated April 30 from United that stated, "We're automatically blocking middle seats to give you enough space on board." Weiss quipped, "I guess a lot has changed in 10 days." The airline has apparently adjusted its policy after Weiss' tweets went viral.

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United said Monday that it would inform passengers if an upcoming flight is full or nearly full and allow them to rebook on another flight or cancel in exchange for travel credit, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. "We'll do our best to contact them about 24 hours before their departure time so they can decide whether to adjust their plans before they arrive at the airport—and we'll provide this option at the gate, if more than 70% of customers have checked in," a statement reads. The measure goes into effect next week and will be in place until June 30. Tweeted Weiss on Tuesday, "To me this story has been entirely about matching expectations with reality and this new policy addresses that issue head-on. Nobody is going to make any activity 100% safe, but I applaud United for making the process more transparent and clear." (Read more United Airlines stories.)

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