Ethan Weiss is one of the many doctors who have traveled to New York City to help patients in overrun hospitals during the COVID-19 pandemic. He recently went viral on Twitter for a thread explaining that when he flew home after finishing up in New York, he encountered something shocking: a completely full plane.
Social distancing measures still remain in place for nearly every industry in the United States, and Ethan never expected to be sitting right next to another random person on a flight. But United Airlines let it happen with no explanation.
It's unclear whether everyone brought their own masks and gloves or whether United provided them to passengers, but still. The CDC has recommended that people who do not live in the same household stay at least six feet apart from each other.
You would think that would include spending an entire flight elbow-to-elbow with a stranger. But it seems that United Airlines was more concerned with selling seats then with people's safety. The whole experience put a bad taste in Ethan's mouth.
It would be one thing if United Airlines had been transparent about their lack of regard for human life. But Ethan notes that just 10 days earlier, he received an email about new safety protocols the airline was adhering to, including leaving the middle seat in every row empty to give passengers enough space.
Evidently, Ethan said, they changed their policy since then. And worse than that, they didn't notify any of their passengers before the flight boarded to give anyone who was uncomfortable the chance to say, "No thanks."
In a subsequent tweet, Ethan explains his situation and notes the reactions of everyone on board. "We are about to land and I just wanted to say a few things," he writes. "1) People on this plane are scared/shocked. 2) I have no idea why most of them are traveling. 3) I am with a group of 25 nurses and doctors who have been working in NYC hospitals for the past 2-4 weeks. We are coming home."
What's worse is that United flew the doctors and nurses for free and, according to Ethan, "got a lot of great PR" for taking care of them and making sure they were safe. That has apparently gone completely out of the window in recent days.
It may not be shocking that United decided to put making money over keeping people safe. Big companies have been doing that for many years. But what is surprising is that they didn't even let their passengers know that they had lifted the restrictions on which seats could be occupied.
Ethan and other passengers expected the middle seats to be empty. That was the scenario that they were comfortable with. United didn't value them enough to tell them that they had changed their policy and that they had effectively given up on social distancing.
I would be furious if I were in Ethan's position. As he said, it's unclear why the other passengers were flying. Perhaps they too were doctors and nurses. But it doesn't matter. What matters is that United promised them that they would take care of them and flights would remain safe, and then they didn't even have the courtesy to tell them they'd given up on that before it was too late. So not OK.