United Airlines hits back at critics, dismissing social distancing on planes as ‘a PR strategy’

United defends ending middle seat policy calling it a ‘PR strategy.’


A United Airlines executive dismissed the idea of blocking middle seats to allow social distancing on planes, claiming that it does nothing for safety.


United chief communications officer Josh Earnest said on a conference call that “When it comes to blocking middle seats, that’s a PR strategy, that’s not a safety strategy.”


The statement comes less than a week after the airline announced it will begin booking planes to capacity – a move that has drawn criticism across the US.


“When you’re on board the aircraft, if you’re sitting in the aisle, and the middle seat is empty, the person across the aisle from you is within 6 feet of you,” Earnest said.


“The person at the window is within 6 feet of you. The people in the row in front of you are within 6 feet of you. The people in the row behind you are within 6 feet of you.


“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.”


American Airlines also announced it will end social distancing on planes.


Issuing a statement of its own, the carrier said: “We are unwavering in our commitment to the safety and well-being of our customers and team members.


“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.”


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr Robert Redfield told a Senate committee that there was “substantial disappointment” with decisions to start selling flights to capacity.


“We don’t think it’s the right message,” Redfield told the committee.