United announces more safety steps for seating, boarding, deplaning

United Airlines introduce more safety changes this week, including new ways to keep those flying from sitting next to someone else.

The airline said it is adjusting the seat selection systems to avoid, where possible, seating customers next to each other, except when traveling together. It also will be alternating window and aisle seats when seats are in pairs.

“While we cannot guarantee that all customers will be seated next to an unoccupied seat, based on historically low travel demand and the implementation of our various social distancing measures, that is the likely outcome,” the company said in its release.

The airline also is changing its rules for boarding and deplaning, saying it is boarding fewer customers at a time to allow for more distance during the boarding process.

Following preboarding (a process that will not change), the airline will board back-to-front by rows, but will space out customers to minimize crowding in the gate area and on the jet bridge.

The airline, reacting to a social media backlash following a picture of a full flight over the weekend, also announced new seating rules.

The airline noted that dramatically decreased air travel has forced it to reduce its schedule by 90%. Because of that, the few flights it has can become crowded. United is taking the following steps when that occurs:

  • Customers on flights that are expected to be closer to full capacity can choose to rebook on a different flight or receive a travel credit. The airline said it will attempt to contact passengers 24 hours before their departure time so they can decide whether to adjust their plans before they arrive at the airport.
  • If more than 70% of customers have checked in, the airline will provide the option to rebook at the gate, without charge.

United, which operates a hub out of Newark Liberty International Airport, is one of the largest employers in New Jersey, with more than 14,000 employees.