Passenger says social distancing not possible aboard full flight from New York to Charlotte

Updated: Apr. 26, 2020 at 11:13 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Air travel during the coronavirus pandemic is hitting record lows.

American Airlines suspended more than 60 percent of its capacity in April as compared to the same period in 2019. The air carrier is planning to suspend 80 percent of its capacity in May.

However, one passenger is concerned the limited flight options are causing full flights in some cases, and do not allow for social distancing.

After more than a month of self-quarantine in Brooklyn, Erin Strine flew to her hometown of Chapel Hill on Saturday.

“My grandmother passed away recently so I felt it was important to be here with my family,” Strine said.

Strine did not expect the experience she had on American Airlines Flight 388 from JFK Airport in New York City to Charlotte.

“I just started to panic,” she said.

Strine posted a video to Twitter showing passengers seated next to each other, and some not wearing masks.

“I had people on both sides of me,” Strine said. “Every row around me, next to me, behind me, were completely full.”

WBTV reached out to American Airlines asking how they are keeping passengers safe if social distancing is not always an option and masks are not required.

In a statement a spokesperson said:

Last month, in response to CDC social distancing guidelines, American began temporarily relaxed seating policies for customers on our flights and reduced onboard food and beverage service levels. To encourage social distancing, gate agents will reassign seats to create more space between customers. Once onboard — provided there aren’t any aircraft weight or balance restrictions — customers can move to another seat within their ticketed cabin subject to availability.

We encourage our customers to follow CDC guidelines and have flexible waivers posted on These allow all of our customers, who have travel booked through Sept. 30, to rebook without any change fees for any flight through December 2021. Those details are on the top of'

The spokesperson did not comment on situations when this is not an option. She also did not respond to requests for the number of seats that were sold on this flight.

“They actually came over the speakers to say the flight was nearly full and that people would not be able to move seats to social distance,” Strine said.

The airline spokesperson also says the CDC is not requiring masks for passengers aboard flights.

Strine says that is unacceptable.

“I really felt like my life and the life of everyone around me was at risk,” she said. “I just sat there silently crying into my mask because I was really overwhelmed by how unsafe I felt.”

Strine said she will be canceling her return flight and driving back to Brooklyn.

Copyright 2020 WBTV. All rights reserved.