United Airlines said it would try to keep the central seats empty. This photo shows an almost complete flight

United Airlines said it would try to keep the central seats empty. This photo shows an almost complete flight

(CNN) – After weeks of working in the frontline hospitals of New York City in the coronavirus pandemic, it was finally time for Dr. Ethan Weiss to go home.

But the University of California, San Francisco cardiologist was surprised at what he saw when he boarded a United Airlines flight from New York to San Francisco on Saturday. Almost every seat was occupied.

A Weiss photo posted on Twitter it seemed to show dozens of masked passengers sitting side by side with no space in between.

“This is the last time I will fly again for a long time,” he wrote in a Twitter thread over the weekend, adding that many passengers on the flight were “scared / shocked”.

Weiss said he was part of a group of 25 doctors and nurses who had worked in New York City hospitals for the past two or four weeks and that United had flown them free.

CNN has contacted Weiss for comment, but has not yet received a response.

“I have to be tested anyway, but this is insane. 6 hours like this,” he tweeted to someone who commented on his thread.

A United spokesman declined to comment on how many people were on Weiss’ flight, stating that “he had an above-average load factor but left with empty seats.”

United Airlines recently announced that some middle seats are unavailable for passenger selection. But the airline claimed not to reduce capacity on flights, so a passenger can sit in a central or adjacent seat if necessary.

“Although we cannot guarantee that all customers will be seated next to a vacant seat, based on historically low travel demand and the implementation of our various social distance measures which is likely to result,” said the airline in a note to CNN.

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The flight had “25 other medical professionals on board flying free” and all passengers and employees were asked to wear face liners, the airline said in a statement.

The spokesman added that most airline flights operate at less than half the capacity and that passengers can rebook if they believe their safety is at risk.

On Sunday, Transport Security Administration agents checked 200,815 passengers, 8% of the total compared to a year ago, according to the TSA.

It increased from 128,875 passengers on Sunday 26 April.

Although airlines are seeing a significant reduction in the number of passengers, United and others have also reduced their schedules, potentially leading to more complete flights than some passengers might expect.

Gregory Wallace, Pete Muntean and CNN’s Alta Spells contributed to this report.


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