September 22, 2020

Inside American Airlines’ Scramble as Virus Grounds Jets by Hundreds

“The world is in such a state, we’re in such a state,” said Rick Elieson, the airline’s president overseeing cargo and vice president for international operations. “It’s worth trying and figuring out.”

At American’s Dallas headquarters and at offices around the country, the company has instituted temperature checkpoints for people coming into the office. Those running a fever are not permitted inside.

When customers make reservations, middle seats are being blocked to promote social distancing. Inside airports, kiosks and counters are disinfected regularly. Planes are being fogged with a special solution of chemicals meant to kill the coronavirus. Passengers can now scan their own boarding pass when getting on a plane, rather than handing it back and forth with a gate agent.

Many airport lounges, including those in New York, Chicago, Miami and Dallas, are closed, with more expected to be shuttered in the coming days. In those still open, buffets have been replaced by prepackaged snacks, and there is no more free alcohol.

In first class, there are no more hot towels or hot nuts. Glass Champagne flutes have been replaced with plastic cups. Flight attendants can wear masks and gloves as they walk the aisles. On shorter flights, there is no more beverage service or food for sale.

“Sixty-eight days ago it was about being present and visible in the aisle and having a high number of customer touch points,” said Brady Byrnes, managing director of flight service. “Now we’re faced with social distancing and limiting customer touch points.”

Executives at American had been monitoring the coronavirus since January, when it began to disrupt travel in China and then other parts of Asia. The company’s pilots were among the first to take the outbreak seriously, suing American on Jan. 30 in an effort to stop flights into mainland China and Hong Kong.

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