VUMC doctors provide COVID-19 safety protocols as American Airlines fills to capacity

Posted at 6:57 PM, Jun 30, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — American Airlines is being criticized by top health experts for its decision to book flights to full capacity starting on Wednesday despite growing COVID-19 cases across the country, including Tennessee.

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Tuesday.

"There’s substantial disappointment with American Airlines," he said.

The large airline carrier announced on Friday that flights will be at capacity again, meaning middle seats will be filled. American will continue to notify customers and allow them to move to more open flights when available at no additional cost. Customers may be able to move to another seat if space is available once boarding is complete.

The decision is similar to the approach of United and Spirit Airlines but is a stark difference to other airlines like Southwest and United which remain at a more limited capacity.

"I would think given the circumstances and spiking right now, it would be wise to separate," AA flier Amanda Goodwin told NewsChannel 5.

"That's the reason I'm flying Delta because they're keeping one seat in between passengers so I feel a lot more comfortable doing that than being in a completely booked airplane," traveler Celeste Haugan said.

The day the airline made the decision, it also announced a new Travel Health Advisory Panel that touted working with two Vanderbilt University Medical Center doctors: Dr. David Aronoff and Dr. Thomas Talbot. The announcement said the doctors helped develop a pre-COVID-19 symptom checklist for passengers when they check-in.

Dr. Aronoff has been on multiple NewsChannel 5 stories urging the importance of social distancing. However, it's unclear if Aronoff or other members of the panel played a role in the decision of filling airplanes or advised against it in some way. In response, VUMC released this statement:

“Our involvement with America Airlines includes participation in their Travel Health Advisory Panel. VUMC’s experts will provide American with the latest information from public health authorities and scientific research, as well as advice and guidance on disease prevention, cleaning procedures and other public health matters, so that American can continue to improve and innovate cleaning procedures. Please contact American Airlines regarding questions about other aspects of their business operations beyond the scope of our agreement.”

American Airlines also doubled down on its intent to allow more passengers to fly in its planes. The statement read, "We are 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."