Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert RedfieldRobert RedfieldGottlieb says government's early COVID-19 response was a 'failure of vision' House Democrats expand probe into political interference into CDC during Trump administration Redfield says he thinks virus 'evolved' in lab to transmit better MORE at a congressional hearing Tuesday expressed "substantial disappointment" with American Airlines for its new policy of filling its planes to capacity despite the coronavirus.
Redfield said under questioning from Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersOvernight Health Care — Presented by Carequest — Study finds Pfizer vaccine almost 91 percent effective for 5 to 11 year olds The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Uber - Manchin, Sanders in budget feud; Biden still upbeat Democratic frustration with Sinema rises MORE (I-Vt.), that American Airlines's new policy, announced Friday, contrasts with other airlines that had allowed middle seats to remain open to increase distance between passengers to help limit the spread of the virus.
"I can tell you that when they announced that the other day, obviously there was substantial disappointment with American Airlines," Redfield said at a Senate Health Committee hearing. "A number of the airlines had decided to keep the middle seat [open]."
American Airlines's new policy of filling its planes to capacity will begin on Wednesday. The airline did say it would notify passengers and allow them to move to more open flights when available, at no extra cost.
In contrast, Delta Air Lines is capping capacity at about 60 percent and Southwest Airlines at about 67 percent, according to The Associated Press. The policy of United Airlines matches American's.
Sanders told Redfield that he hopes the CDC or another government agency orders the airlines and other travel companies to ensure that there is distance between passengers.
"I just hope very much that the CDC or the appropriate agency basically tells these companies that that is unacceptable behavior," Sanders said. "They're endangering the lives of the American people."
Airlines for America, which represents and advocates for the major U.S. airlines, defended American's new policy on Tuesday. American Airlines is a member of A4A.
“You can’t social distance on an airplane. We believe there are safety measures in place on a multi-level basis that makes flying safe, in fact safer than many other activities,” A4A CEO Nicholas E. Calio told reporters on a press call following Redfield’s statement.