A member of a ground crew walks past American Airlines planes parked at the gate during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, April 5, 2020.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
American Airlines has started alerting travelers about crowded planes before their trips and allowing them to switch to other flights in an effort to calm customers nervous about the spread of the coronavirus.
The measure, which American announced Wednesday, follows a similar step by United Airlines. United instituted a new policy that tells customers when their flight is more than 70% full and lets them switch to another flight without paying an extra fee, after a passenger posted a photo on Twitter of a packed cross-country flight that went viral.
Airlines are struggling to balance travelers’ safety concerns with the need to fill their planes as much as possible during what is usually the busiest time of year. Major U.S. carriers now require that travelers wear masks on board and say they will make a few available for customers.
Delta Air Lines is planning to add 100 flights in June so its planes fly no more than 60% full. JetBlue Airways is leaving middle seats open, unless families are traveling together, on its Airbus planes through July 6 while Southwest Airlines plans to do the same on its Boeing 737 jets through the end of July.
American Airlines’ customers will be notified that a “flight may be busier than you expected” when they open their digital check-in window. In an effort to encourage new bookings, American also extended its waiver by a month so customers who buy tickets through June 30 for dates through the end of September can change their tickets without paying a change fee if they fly by Dec. 31, 2021.
American’s CEO, Doug Parker, speaking at an investor conference which was webcast because of the virus, said revenue is still down 90% from a year ago, but bookings are starting to pick up. During the Memorial Day weekend, the traditional kickoff to the peak spring and summer travel season, more than 1.2 million people passed through U.S. airport checkpoints, a sharp increase from the more than six-decade low hit in April, but off 87% from 9.5 million during the same dates last year.
U.S. airlines, including American, last month started receiving $25 billion in government aid that requires them to keep workers through Sept. 30. Parker said the airline will need to “right-size” but it is trying to exhaust voluntary measures like early retirement and unpaid leaves before layoffs are necessary.
He also said the airline is not considering filing for bankruptcy.
“I don’t think people should view bankruptcy has a financial tool. I think it’s a failure,” he said, adding, “we’re not going to do that.”