Based Off This Harrowing Experience, Expect the Middle Seat of Your Flight to Be Occupied

United is the latest airline seemingly backtracking on a no-middle-seat pledge

United Airlines
A medical professional describes a recent, harrowing flight on United.
PEDRO PARDO / AFP / GETTY
By Kirk Miller / May 11, 2020 12:03 pm

The pledge by many airlines to keep the middle seat open was already not going to work, primarily due to economics.

It turns out those same companies may not even be trying.

On Saturday, May 9, Dr. Ethan Weiss was returning home to San Francisco from New York, after volunteering at New York-Presbyterian Hospital during the COVID-19 crisis. During a flight that took off from Newark via United, he was met with a jam-packed flight with middle seats occupied by worried travelers.

First, let’s get this out of the way: United is to be commended for offering free round-trip tickets to medical volunteers. But Dr. Weiss vividly described a crowded airline that could have become chaotic if the passengers weren’t, in part, trained medical professionals.

Dr. Weiss also pointed out that just 10 days earlier, United had promised to block middle seats.

As the doctor noted on a Twitter thread, “We are about to land & I just wanted to say a few things. 1) people on this plane are scared/ shocked. 2) I have no idea why most of them are traveling. 3)I am with a group of 25 nurses and doctors who have been working in NYC hospitals for the past 2-4 weeks. We are coming home.”

United’s website is vague about their social distancing: “Though we cannot guarantee that all customers will be seated next to an unoccupied seat, based on historically low travel demand and the implementation of our various social distancing measures that is the likely outcome.”

As Weiss told Forbes, “You can’t tell people that it’s going to be a half-empty flight with empty middle seats and then have people show up and not have it that way. The problem with what happened yesterday, is I think there was such a disconnect between people’s expectations and the reality.”

If you absolutely do not need to fly right now, we suggest waiting until the airlines can figure out a better solution; otherwise, you might find irate, scared passengers and a scene “played out like a post-apocalyptic movie.”

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