United Updates Policy After Doctor's Tweet About Crowded Flight From Newark

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A doctor's tweet about "scared" and "shocked" passengers on a crowded United Airlines flight from Newark is highlighting the difficulties of social distancing while traveling during the pandemic.

"I guess @united is relaxing their social distancing policy these days?" Dr. Ethan Weiss, a cardiologist who was flying back home to San Francisco with 25 other nurses and doctors, tweeted alongside a picture of himself sitting in a packed aircraft. "Every seat full on this 737."

Weiss also posted a picture of an email he said he received from United instructing him that the airline would be "blocking middle seats" as a preventive measure and to give passengers "enough room" to board.

"They could have avoided this by just communicating better," Weiss wrote. "They literally just sent an email 10 days ago telling all of us the middle seats would be empty."

In response, United Airlines said "blocking" is the wrong word. Instead, it says the airline is "limiting advanced seat selection for adjacent seats in all cabins, including middle seats where available."

"Because our schedule is so reduced, there are a small number of flights where our customers are finding planes fuller than they expect," the airline said.

To reduce the number of people in congested flights, the airline says it will allow customers to rebook on a different flight or receive a travel credit, starting next week through June 30.

Another traveler on Monday documented a full flight from LaGuardia to D.C. on an American Airlines flight.

An American spokesman insisted that the image doesn't properly show "25 seats not occupied" on the regional E-175 and that "the aircraft was not at max capacity," NBC News reported. The airline has pledged to keep 50 percent of middle seats empty; this smaller craft has seats only in pairs.

Although the number of people passing through airport security checkpoints has been rising since mid-April, it is still down 93% from a year ago. Here are some questions and answers about flying during the coronavirus pandemic:

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