A doctor’s tweet about “scared” and “shocked” passengers on a crowded United Airlines flight has highlighted the difficulties of physical distancing while traveling during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I guess @united is relaxing their social distancing policy these days?” Dr. Ethan Weiss, a cardiologist who was flying from Newark, New Jersey to San Francisco, California, tweeted alongside a picture of himself sitting in a packed aircraft. “Every seat full on this 737.”
Weiss wrote that he was with a group of 25 nurses and doctors who were returning home after volunteering in New York City hospitals for the past two to four weeks and that he was not sure why other passengers were traveling. He added that the flight would be “the last time” he’d be flying again “in a long time.”
He also posted a picture of an email he says he received from United instructing him that the airline would be “blocking middle seats” as a preventative measure and to give passengers “enough room” to board. This was not the case, as passengers were sitting in the middle seats, according to Weiss’ picture and thread, which he posted Saturday.
Neither Weiss nor United Airlines immediately responded to NBC News’ requests for comment, however, a United spokesperson told USA Today on Sunday that the airline “overhauled our cleaning and safety procedures and implemented a new boarding and deplaning process to promote social distancing.” The spokesperson also noted that “all passengers and employees were asked to wear face coverings, consistent with our new policy.”
Yet Weiss said the close quarters left passengers “scared” and “shocked.”
“They could have avoided this by just communicating better,” Weiss wrote. “They literally just sent an email 10 days ago telling all of us the middle seats would be empty.”
United Airlines is one of several airlines that has recently implemented policies blocking middle seats in an effort to maintain physical distancing. Though airline traffic has significantly decreased in light of the pandemic — the Transportation Security Administration reported that the number of people traveling by plane hit a 10-year low last month — there are indications that it will pick up as areas of the nation reopen. The agency said it screened 215,444 passengers Friday, the highest daily number since March 25.