American Airlines is flying in the face of coronavirus safety protocols and its passengers’ well-being, according to a trio of whistleblowing flight attendants.
Despite there only being 11 people on a Tuesday, March 24 flight, the company allegedly refused to allow them to adhere to the social-distancing measure of sitting 6 feet apart, instead forcing them all into the last three rows, Mother Jones reports.
“The reasoning behind it is, well, they bought basic economy fares, so we can’t put them further up in the cabin, because that would be an upgrade,” said one of the flight attendants, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from her employer.
Despite a lack of protocol allowing them to do so, flight attendants “took it upon ourselves to spread them out,” she claims to the outlet.
That same day, American — the world’s largest airline in terms of both passenger number and fleet size — did finally issue a new “relaxed seating” policy in response to the pandemic. It allows gate agents to “reassign seats to create more space between customers” and for passengers to “move to another seat within their ticketed cabin subject to availability,” adding that 50% of standard middle seats and every seat bordering jump seats should be left empty.
The apparently reactionary measures may not have been sufficient, however, as the company continued to enforce pricing tiers on nearly empty flights, Mother Jones reports.
American Airlines told The Post that Mother Jones declined to provide them with the flight numbers for the trips in question.
“Additionally, the last row of every flight is blocked for airport control, and those seats are never assigned unless the flight is completely full,” a representative said via email.
However, one frequent flyer told The Post she experienced a similar scenario on her last American Airlines flight.
“This was on March 7th from JFK to LAX — all passengers were shoved in the last 8 rows and had about 12 rows free,” said Katie Levine, 28, a Los Angeles-based photographer whose work has appeared in Vogue and GQ magazines. “We weren’t allowed to spread out because it was ‘extra legroom seats.’ When I discussed [this] with the flight attendant, he said ‘What’s next, you guys are gonna expect first class seats?’ It was absolutely insane.”
After American Airlines’ new protocols were put in place, one flight attendant claims they were on another flight where the few passengers were tightly confined within their class tier. All 15 passengers were again crammed into the plane’s last rows, barred from moving ahead of the exit row, as that would constitute an upgrade.
In addition to to claims that they refuse to prioritize passenger safety over pricing tiers, even on nearly empty flights, the airline allegedly hasn’t given attendants hand sanitizer — although it does provide sanitizing towelettes. It also only began allowing attendants to wear face masks in the final week of March — and then, only if they were in a neutral color.
“It’s insulting,” a flight attendant told Mother Jones. “Let’s suppose I do go on Amazon and find a mask, but it’s in purple. Well, now you don’t want me to wear it because it’s purple and it’s not beige?”
Meanwhile, on March 23, Philadelphia-based American Airlines flight attendant Paul Frishkorn, 65, died of COVID-19 complications. In the following week, the airline sharply reduced meal and snack service and suspended 60 to 80 percent of its domestic flights for April and May.
Flight attendants say much more is necessary, and the changes are coming too late.
“For my own mental health, I’ve just been resolved that I’m exposed and I run a very high risk of contracting it,” one American Airlines attendant told Mother Jones.