‘Miracle on the Hudson’ pilot, Captain Chesley Burnett ‘Sully’ Sullenberger III, revealed on Tuesday that he will only fly with airlines who keep their middle seat vacant amid the pandemic.
Sullenberger, who rose to fame for the emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on January 15, 2009, on the Hudson River, spoke about his preference during an interview with Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO, on Reimagine with Eric Schmidt.
While speaking with Schmidt, Sullenberger cited a study from MIT that found that filling the middle seats on airplanes doubles the risk of catching COVID-19.
‘And I’ll tell you, I’m going to fly on an airplane where the middle seats are kept empty, knowing that my chances of catching COVID are half that if the middle seat were filled,’ Sullenberger said.
The former Air Force pilot and captain, who retired as a commercial pilot in 2010, then slammed the federal government for failing the transportation industry.
‘Miracle on the Hudson’ pilot, Captain Chesley Burnett ‘Sully’ Sullenberger III (pictured), revealed on Tuesday that he will only fly with airlines who keep their middle seat vacant amid the pandemic
Sullenberger cited a study from MIT that found that filling the middle seats on airplanes doubles the risk of catching COVID-19
‘One of the biggest failure so far in terms of our air transportation system is that in this country we have never had a federal face covering mandate in spite of the fact that many have been calling for that,’ Sullenberger said on the podcast.
‘And that would have been one of the most effective things that we could do. Instead, individual airlines are having to come up with their own policies and procedures,’ he said.
‘And to try to encourage the flight attendants to be the cop on the beat and to enforce these requirements that are really very basic.’
He then criticized the politicization of COVID-19, saying: ‘It really disturbs me greatly the extent to which for this whole episode, unlike any other crisis we’ve had in our nation’s history, these basic safety requirements have become so extremely politicized and an extension of an ongoing cultural war.
‘And that has done and continues to do great harm. We have acquired the data to know what works and what doesn’t, where the relative risks are and began to take effective steps to mitigate each part of the process,’ he added.
‘You see, there’s not one silver bullet that will solve the whole problem. Instead, we must rely upon a whole panoply of individual actions that, in aggregate, can make us all safer.’
Sullenberger’s preference to fly with airlines who leave the middle seat vacant doesn’t give him a lot of options in the coming months.
Delta Air Lines has said the company will be blocking middle seats until January 6. Southwest Airlines has taken similar steps to allow social distancing and will keep their middle seats empty until November 30.
‘And I’ll tell you, I’m going to fly on an airplane where the middle seats are kept empty, knowing that my chances of catching COVID are half that if the middle seat were filled,’ Sullenberger said
Delta Air Lines has said the company will be blocking middle seats until January 6
JetBlue is blocking all middle seats through October 15 on its Airbus A320 planes.
Beginning October 16 and through at least December 1, JetBlue will be capping its jets at less than 70 per cent of capacity.
American Airlines and United Airlines are not blocking seats or capping bookings.
On Tuesday, the US Treasury announced that it had reached a deal with seven major US airlines including American and United to offer them loans in a bid to stave off job cuts amid the pandemic.
But the Treasury statement does not say if these agreements are going to be enough to allow those two airlines to cancel recently announced plans to proceed with job cuts.
Since March, airlines have been grounding planes and delaying jet deliveries to try to limit the cash-burn as the worldwide coronavirus pandemic effectively paralyzed travel for months.
As the US economy gradually reopens, airlines have struggled to convince wary passengers to return to the skies, and international routes have been drastically reduced because of various travel restrictions in effect.
Beyond American and United, the other airlines that signed loan agreements with the administration of President Donald Trump are Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines and SkyWest Airlines.
Delta and Southwest were – unsurprisingly – not part of the agreements, having already said they would not participate.
‘We are pleased to conclude loans that will support this critical industry while ensuring appropriate taxpayer compensation,’ Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the statement.
Mnuchin called on Congress to extend its aid programs to support jobs across the air travel industry.
The $25billion in loans have been granted under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act — the $2.2trillion coronavirus stimulus package passed by Congress in March.
Airlines had been in talks with the Treasury since July. Certain conditions will apply, such as maintaining a certain number of jobs and salary ceilings.
The Treasury said the amount of the initial loans could be increased ‘as a result of some major airlines determining not to move forward’ with the process.
‘The reallocation of funds will be subject to a loan concentration limit of $7.5billion per passenger air carrier, or 30 per cent of the $25billion available for passenger air carriers,’ it said.
Airlines have struck agreements with unions to spread out work among employees. Tens of thousands of employees have also accepted unpaid leave or early retirement packages to avert the need for involuntary terminations.
Before Tuesday’s announcement, American Airlines had said it expected to cut as many as 19,000 jobs.
United Airlines on Monday reached an agreement with its pilots union to avert furloughs of 2,850 pilots, but was still on track to furlough as many as 13,000 other workers as soon as October 1, including flight attendants and airport operations staff.