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So much for the middle seat being empty

https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/doctor-united-full-flight-social-distancing-trnd/index.html

Dr. Ethan Weiss: This is the last time I'll be flying again for a very long time," he wrote in a Twitter thread over the weekend, adding that a lot of passengers on the flight were "scared/shocked."
Weiss said he was a part of a group of 25 doctors and nurses who had been working in New York City hospitals for the past two to four weeks, and that United had flown them for free.

"I have to be tested anyway but this is insane. 6 hours like this."

United Airlines recently announced that it was making some middle seats unavailable for passengers to select. But the company said it was also not reducing capacity on flights, so a passenger could be seated in a middle or adjacent seat if necessary.

Posted by
1175 posts

There are a lot of comments about “well what do you expect?”

I think the real issue is transparency. If United had been honest ahead of time then people could choose to make other arrangements. They could also choose to add extra PPE.

Finding out different conditions on boarding the plane is problematic. This is especially true since people made reliance on their previous emails saying the middle seat would be empty. .

Posted by
3436 posts

In one of the earlier statements from United, they clearly stated they would be blocking middle seats and not "selling" them. So those in the middle seats were flying free, therefore United did exactly what it stated: it did not "sell" those seats. :-/

But, yeah, what did you expect? Airlines are fighting for dollars. They are not going to put these passengers flying free on a different plane to allow for the empty seats. Unfortunately, United still apparently has not learned that people have cell phones with cameras and are not afraid to use them to provide negative publicity. I could go on about things United has promised over the past few years and then did the exact opposite. But I won't. Trying to keep the blood pressure down.

And it is not just United filling their planes after saying they would leave empty seats. Someone reported their Southwest flight was completely full a couple days ago due to 2 other flights for the same route getting cancelled.

Posted by
1175 posts

United did exactly what it stated: it did not "sell" those seats. :-/

United isn’t very ethical if it has to use weasel wording to be technically correct. Deceit is always part of weasel words.

Posted by
919 posts

This is the same airline that beat down a passenger while dragging him off the flight. They used to be a good airline, but must have gotten rid of all their PR people.

Posted by
89 posts

In addition to the packed plane, it would have made me very nervous to be among those returning doctors and nurses.
I noted Dr. Weiss' comment that he had to be tested anyway, how about if he did that before he got on the plane. It's great that the went to help the New York community but I would hope they would be tested and possibly quarantined before they flew home.

Posted by
6223 posts

I really regret these "gotcha" articles. Every business is trying to muddle through right now - there is nothing magical about middle seats (no one knows if they are sufficient or effective, they're just an experiment right now), nor are the airlines required to have them completely blocked off yet (that I know of). Do we want to focus exclusively on their less-than-perfect performance, or on the fact that they transported medical staff at no cost, probably not for the first time? Which is more important? The article said that everyone who felt their safety was compromised on a flight could reschedule, so I assume they had free will. It also sounds like having a free adjacent seat was not guaranteed. The problem is that the flight schedules are so thin right now, and demand is so hard to predict, that perhaps this was the best they could do in the circumstance and, unfortunately, it wasn't at all ideal. Who knows.

Related article here for those who can access NYT:
"If Airlines Are Suffering, Why Are Some Planes So Full?"
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/11/business/packed-united-flight-crowded-airlines.html?action=click&module=News&pgtype=Homepage

Posted by
2347 posts

The focus on United’s failings misses the big point. There is no evidence that removal of middle seat passengers or even alternating rows will do anything to mitigate transmission of COVID-19 should a passenger with the disease be on board. This has been studied with diseases such as drug resistant tuberculosis which, despite the scary name, is much less communicable than COVID-19. The failure here is at the Federal government level. After 9/11 under George Bush, flights were grounded. At the time nobody knew how long this was going to last. But the decision was the right one for the time, despite that pain and huge disruption. What is our Federal government doing about airline travel? Very little. Isn’t this when the FAA should be talking to the CDC, the NIH and making some bold decisions about air travel and it’s safety? No, the question is not whether UAL is being responsible, it’s whether they should even be involved in the decision to fly and how to fly safely. Their allegiance is to their shareholders, not to the health of the flying public.

Posted by
6223 posts

I agree with everything Alan wrote. DOT/ FAA is the regulatory body that is relevant here...where are they, and what have they learned in conferring with health experts? Airlines are going to continue to muddle through and put forth all sorts of ideas that they think will please passengers...will those ideas be effective?

Posted by
1175 posts

The article said that everyone who felt their safety was compromised on a flight could reschedule, so I assume they had free will.

Not exactly. Free will would dictate that United disclosed ahead of time what the scenario would be so people could plan properly. A last minute surprise does not allow people to make alternate plans. This is especially true if they had already prepaid for airport pickup. They would have to cancel transport/hotel/etc. if they rescheduled. Rescheduling is a great inconvenience.

Arguments on empty seat effectiveness are a red herring. The issue is that United’s email allowed assumptions that the middle seats would be empty. Except they weren’t.

The issue, as I see it, is full disclosure ahead of time. No surprises.

Their allegiance is to their shareholders, not to the health of the flying public.

They also have duty of care toward the customer. Failure in this area absolutely affects the bottom line and the shareholders.

Posted by
343 posts

I agree with Cindy. The real issue is that United misled and/or lied to their customers, leading them to expect a far safer flying experience than they actually got.

Are all the airlines going back on their word in this way? I have a domestic flight coming up on Delta, and when I rebooked the flight, I specifically asked if the middle seats would be blocked off for that date. They said yes. If they said no, I would have chosen another date to fly. Now because of what United did, I need to be worried whether Delta will do this as well.

Posted by
1177 posts

I agree with Alan the FAA needs to set guidelines regarding seating, disinfecting, and passenger safety in general.

Until there's a vaccine it's a new world in that if someone is nearby and coughing, or even asymptomatic, you could be in for much more than just a cold.

Also, since these people were health care professionals I would suspect they're being tested almost every day, including before and after the flight.

Posted by
1534 posts

The empty middle seat is a marketing ploy.

There's still not 6' between you and your fellow passenger.

And I am sorry but "6 hours like this" ?????

The truth is the passengers he was sitting near were a LOT less risky then the patients he supposedly had been taking care of.

This is "look at me drama" in the extreme. Someone gives you a free flight and you whine about it's not luxury like I expected.

Posted by
1175 posts

The truth is the passengers he was sitting near were a LOT less risky then the patients he supposedly had been taking care of.

False equivalency.

I’m fairly sure he was using PPE and sterilization procedures when he was working with the patients. This wasn’t available on the plane. Also, I’m fairly sure the air wasn’t being recirculated in the hospital like it was on the plane.

Again, the issue was United sending a very misleading email.

The lack of disclosure meant that there was less ability to mitigate the situation.

Posted by
3436 posts

Their allegiance is to their shareholders, not to the health of the flying public.

Well, if they make enough of the flying public sick through improper handling of minimal sanitation and distancing on the plane, the lack of health of the general flying public will negatively impact their shareholders. And I think that attitude by businesses in general is wrong. Yes, they owe it to the shareholders to make a profit and provide return on investment. But not at risk to their employees or customers of severe illness or death.

This is "look at me drama" in the extreme. Someone gives you a free flight and you whine about it's not luxury like I expected.

That is not at all what I got from the posting made by the doctor. There was no whining. There was no complaint about not getting champagne and caviar. He was not even complaining about not getting a 1st class seat because he knew his free ticket got him a seat in economy. He is just letting everyone know that contrary to statements made by United to the general public, the middle seats were not empty on that specific flight. This is important information for those of us who may be uncomfortable having to sit as close as economy seats are until the virus is more under control.

Posted by
38 posts

United never actually said that the middle seats would be empty, although that was the impression they were trying to give. They said they would be blocking middle seat assignments - for passengers checking in online (and then filling those middle seats with late-check-ins if they sold enough tikets). Seems pretty deceptive to me, and ultimately a PR time-bomb that anyone could see would come back to blow up in their faces. But this isn't United's first PR disaster (ask Doctor David Dao). And honestly, that's just how many large corporations function: "The large print giveth and the small print taketh away.” - Tom Waits.

It's a terrible way to treat customers no matter how you explain it away.

Posted by
3436 posts

And United is trying to save face again. New updates to the empty seat issue:

"Travel demand has decreased dramatically and even though we have reduced our schedule by 90%, the vast majority of our flights (85%) are less than half full. However, because our schedule is so reduced (we're only operating a single flight a day in some destinations), there are a small number of flights where our customers are finding planes fuller than they expect. Starting next week and continuing through June 30, we'll allow customers on flights that are expected to be closer to full capacity to choose to rebook on a different flight or receive a travel credit. We'll do our best to contact them about 24 hours before their departure time so they can decide whether to adjust their plans before they arrive at the airport – and we'll provide this option at the gate, if more than 70% of customers have checked in.

Adjusting our seat selection systems to avoid where possible seating customers next to each other, except when traveling together. We're also alternating window and aisle seats when seats are in pairs. While 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. " -- https://hub.united.com/united-coronavirus-covid19-safety-update-2645397564.html

Posted by
3436 posts

BigMike. Yep.

Here it is in plain speak: We will sell however many tickets for a flight we can. If the flight is not full, you might get an empty seat next to you, but if you don't, too bad. If you notice the flight you are scheduled for looks full, we will allow you to change to a different flight without the normal flight change fees, but that might mean you don't get where you are going because we only have one flight a day between most destinations right now. All these words are just to make us look like we might care about more than just your dollars.

P.S. Don't forget to bring your own drinks and food if it is a long flight because we won't be serving you anything at all no matter what. Our wonderful flight attendants will be doing their "hide behind the curtain" act even better than they regularly do. At least we still let you go to the toilet during the flight, maybe.

Posted by
1177 posts

Mark, all of this has great potential for comedy bits and stuff like Saturday Night Live.

Comedians will have plenty of material.