Sen. Jeff Merkley called for airlines to block the middle seat after posting a selfie on a crowded plane.

By Alison Fox
July 09, 2020
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A senator from Oregon is calling on Congress to ban the use of middle seats on airlines after he flew home onto a packed plane as COVID-19 infections continue to grow in states across the country.

Sen. Jeff Merkley boarded an American Airlines plane on July 2, a day after the carrier said it started lifting capacity restrictions on its planes. He was headed home to Oregon via a connection in Texas. 

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Merkley, who posted a selfie of himself on the crowded plane to Twitter, called the decision to lift capacity restrictions “incredibly irresponsible” and accused the airline of “facilitating [the] spread of COVID infections,” adding people have to take off their masks to eat and drink. 

A day later, he tweeted he would introduce a bill “to ban the sale of middle seats through this pandemic. And I’ll work with colleagues to include it in a package of airline accountability reforms they are crafting.”

Merkley told The Washington Post in an interview on Wednesday, that if flying is considering essential, "then we should do everything we can to make them safe for the people who are using them.”

As for potential legislation, he said, “It is going to be public attention and outcry that is going to have a huge factor [in making the bill a law], both on members of Congress ... and upon the companies thinking about their reputation and their customer relationships.”

A spokeswoman for American Airlines told Travel + Leisure on Thursday the airline is “unwavering in our commitment to the safety and well-being of our customers and team members.

“We have multiple layers of protection in place for those who fly with us, including required face coverings, enhanced cleaning procedures, and a pre-flight COVID-19 symptom checklist — and we’re providing additional flexibility for customers to change their travel plans, as well,” she added. “We know our customers are placing their trust in us to make every aspect of their journey safe, and we are committed to doing just that."

American Airlines isn’t alone in not capping the number of people allowed on a plane. United Airlines has done the same and has said it will continue its policy of notifying customers 24 hours before a flight if a plane is likely to be full.

Delta Air Lines and Southwest, on the other hand, have said they intend to keep middle seats open through September, and Alaska Airlines has said it will do the same through July 31.

This Story Originally Appeared On travelandleisure