As video of full flight to North Carolina goes viral, airlines reassess physical distancing guidelines

Wednesday, April 29, 2020
Photo of packed passenger plane draws shock
EMBED <>More Videos

There are new concerns about coronavirus and air travel after video of a packed flight made it online.

Airlines say they're trying to maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, but one video that went viral last weekend is showing otherwise.

Erin Strine was flying from New York City to Raleigh on Saturday. Strine's grandmother had recently passed and she wanted to be home with her family during a difficult time.

Her worries multiplied when she boarded American Airlines flight 388 and saw that social distancing would be virtually impossible. A video she shot showed multiple rows of people sitting side-by-side.

"It was shocking, to say the least," Strine told Good Morning America. "It was the first time that I felt truly unsafe."

A tweet from Strine echoed those thoughts, as she said: "I've never felt less safe or cared for in my entire life."

"I recognize the risks that I was taking by agreeing to be on an airplane in the first place and while I wanted to believe all of the, you know, precautions would be taken that I had read on the airline's websites, you know, there are lots of, lots of asterisks there."

Strine said she arrived at a largely empty JFK two hours before her scheduled flight and saw passengers start to gather in line to board. With a layover in Charlotte, Strine sat in the middle seat with the plane about 85 percent full.

The airline said it's leaving roughly half of its middle seats in standard economy empty.

"I wanted to come home to be here for my, my parents and my dad especially you know it wasn't wasn't a decision I made lightly."

American Airlines pilot Denis Tajer said that he was surprised by the video.

"We're not where we need to be having a flight go out with mostly every seat booked," he said. "That's not the answer."

JetBlue became the first airline to make passengers wear face masks during travel. Officials say that could become the standard soon.

"From the airport door to the airplane door on the airplane, and then back out through the airport, we want people wearing face coverings in all those areas," said Sara Nelson, President of the Largest Flight Attendants Union.

United said it intends to leave an empty seat next to each passenger. TSA is installing plexiglass barriers at travel document check-in stations and Emirates is offering passengers rapid COVID-19 tests before boarding.