Sen. Merkley to Introduce Bill Limiting Flight Capacity During COVID-19 Pandemic

July 6, 2020 Updated: July 6, 2020

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) says he will introduce legislation that would prohibit the sale of middle seats on commercial airliners as long as the COVID-19 pandemic remains a public health concern.

“A lot of folks reacted to my tweet yesterday about the irresponsible sale of middle seats on planes saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if someone in the Senate did something about it?’” Merkley wrote on Twitter on July 3.

Merkley specifically called out American Airlines for being irresponsible, in a July 2 tweet.

“@AmericanAir: how many Americans will die bc you fill middle seats, w/your customers shoulder to shoulder, hour after hour. This is incredibly irresponsible. People eat and drink on planes and must take off masks to do so. No way you aren’t facilitating spread of COVID infection,” Merkley said.

senator introduces bill to abolish electoral college
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) speaks with reporters in a file photo. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

American Airlines told The Epoch Times in an emailed statement that their employees’ and customers’ health is their top priority.

“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. We know our customers are placing their trust in us to make every aspect of their journey safe, and we are committed to doing just that.”

American also announced recently that the airline has created a Travel Health Advisory Panel to advise the company on best practices for health and cleaning as their flights get fuller during the summer months.

“We’re pleased to have access to new guidance on infectious diseases and best practices from the experts at Vanderbilt University Medical Center,” said Alison Taylor, American’s chief customer officer. “Drs. Aronoff and Talbot will be an important part of our decision-making process on issues including cleaning, health screening, and best practices.”

In addition, American Airlines said that customers are allowed to move to empty seats when flights aren’t full.

On July 2, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) shared Merkley’s concern, saying full commercial flights pose a health threat.

Sanders wrote a letter to the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration, Secretary Elaine Chao, and Administrator Stephen Dickson on July 2, seeking immediate steps “to mandate that airlines protect passengers and employees and put safety over profit.”

He asked the Trump administration to require face coverings for passengers and workers, along with the maximum capacity of passengers on flights to be limited to 67 percent of available seats. He also wants airlines to meet U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cleaning and air circulation and filtration standards.

American Airlines said it has a thorough disinfecting system being utilized on each flight.

“The airline applies an electrostatic spray inside the aircraft every seven days which kills 99.9999% of viruses and bacteria within 10 minutes. The HEPA filtration system onboard American’s fleet provides a complete air change every two to four minutes, similar to the standard for hospitals.”

Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during the daily briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, at the White House on April 17, 2020. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, said he’s disappointed with airlines for running flights at full capacity.

“I can tell you that when they announced that the other day, obviously there was a substantial disappointment with American Airlines,” Redfield said. “I can say this is under critical review right now by us at CDC. We don’t think it’s the right message.”

The CDC has issued guidance saying that “although illness may occur as a direct result of air travel, it is uncommon.”