Fri | Aug 7, 2020

US issues plane guidelines but no new rules for safe air travel

Published:Thursday | July 2, 2020 | 5:51 PM
In this Tuesday, June 16, 2020, file photo, travelers walk through Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

Federal officials said Thursday that airlines should consider limiting capacity on planes to promote social distancing, but they are not considering making the airlines do it.

The officials also recommended — but did not move to require — that travellers wear face coverings in airports and on planes.

All leading US airlines now require passengers to wear masks, but regulators have refused a request by the airlines to make it a federal rule.

The Transportation, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services departments made those and other recommendations in a report containing guidelines for reducing the risk of spreading the new coronavirus by air travel.

The agencies said airlines and airports should take steps to increase social distancing, clean surfaces touched by passengers, and ask passengers about their health to discourage people who may be ill from travelling.

“This document provides clear guidance to airlines and airports to protect the travelling public, and we encourage people to pay attention to it,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Fourteen aviation and business organisations including the largest airline trade group, Airlines for America, said the guidelines could help the United States negotiate an end to international travel bans.

Because of the high COVID-19 infection rates in the US, the European Union this week excluded Americans from people who will be able to travel freely to most of Europe.

The issue of limiting capacity on planes gained new urgency this week when American Airlines joined United Airlines in trying to fill every seat on every flight.

The move was criticised by the government’s top expert on infectious diseases, Dr Anthony Fauci, and Dr Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think in the confines of an airplane that (lack of social distancing) becomes even more problematic,” Fauci said.

Other airlines including Delta, Southwest, and JetBlue say they are temporarily leaving one-third or more seats empty to create more space between passengers.

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