The union representing American Airlines pilots has pushed the federal government to buy out middle seats on all flights run by the airline over the coming months.
The Allied Pilots Union has pitched a plan it calls Safe Essential Air Transportation Seating (SEATS), which would see Washington foot the bill for extending current social distancing measures.
“Under SEATS, the government would purchase enough seats on each flight to eliminate the need for any passenger to sit next to a stranger,” said APA president Captain Eric Ferguson.
The scheme – which would currently cost approximately US$1.9 billion/month – runs counter to plans announced by competitor United, which is working closely with the relevant pilots union to negotiate middle seat blocking on regional services.
However, the price tag would also rise in line with schedule increases, ballooning to some US$3.8 billion/month as airlines approach 80 per cent capacity.
“The return of air travel is a major catalyst for economic recovery, stimulating ancillary spending well beyond the cost of an airline ticket,” added Ferguson, preferring to frame the program as an investment.
“On the one hand, policymakers face enormous pressure to reopen the economy, while also taking into account the importance of social distancing to mitigate the spread of the virus.
“Fortunately, where the airline industry is concerned, these competing pressures do not need to be addressed as an ‘either/or’ choice.”