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The nation’s top infectious disease experts on Tuesday slammed airlines planning full flights as the coronavirus continues to spread throughout the country.

Several US airlines have stated they’re limiting capacity on planes to between 60 and 67 percent.

But, United Airlines has not promised to leave seats empty, and American announced last week that it will drop such measures and begin filling its flights to the brim beginning Wednesday as companies try to increase revenue.

“Obviously that is something that is of concern. I’m not sure what went into that decision making,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a Senate panel.

“I think in the confines of an airplane that becomes even more problematic,” he added.

Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, joined Fauci in expressing “substantial disappointment” in the company’s decision.

“I can say this is under critical review by us at CDC. We don’t think it’s the right message,” Redfield added.

The heads of United and American airlines argued that it’s impossible to maintain social distancing on a plane — even with middle seats empty — and that other safety measures are being taken, like mask-wearing, enhanced cleaning and air-filtration systems.

“It’s less about social distancing and it’s more about the air and quality of air onboard the airplane that makes people safe,” said United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby.

American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said the company has “multiple layers of protection in place for those who fly with us, including required face coverings, enhanced cleaning procedures, and a pre-flight COVID-19 symptom checklist.”

American flyers have the option of changing flights if they feel their flight is too full, Feinstein added.

After multiple reports that airlines were not enforcing their own mask mandates, United, American and Delta by last week announced that they will be banning passengers who refuse to cover their nose and mouth.

The policies come as airlines look to recoup enormous financial losses due to the pandemic, which brought a 95 percent drop in passengers during April.

Passengers have slowly begun flying again, but travel is still down 75 percent from normal.

With Post wires

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American Airlines Threatens to Cancel Some Boeing Max Orders

By DAVID KOENIG, AP Airlines Writer

DALLAS (AP) — American Airlines is warning Boeing that it could cancel some overdue orders for the grounded 737 Max unless the plane maker helps line up new financing for the jets, which has become more expensive as the coronavirus pandemic has crippled airlines, according to people familiar with the discussions.

American had 24 Max jets before they were grounded in March 2019. It has orders for 76 more but wants Boeing to help arrange financing for 17 planes for which previous financing has or will soon expire, according to three people who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity to discuss private talks between the companies.

If the companies can't reach an agreement, American could use Max financing that is about to expire to pay for jets from Boeing archrival Airbus, one of the people said.

Boeing said in a statement that it is working with customers during “an unprecedented time for our industry as airlines confront a steep drop in traffic," but did not comment on the talks with American. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline declined to comment.

News of American’s threat to cancel some orders was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The situation underscores the strain facing airlines during the coronavirus pandemic. It has grown more difficult and expensive for them to finance planes. American’s negotiating stance doesn’t reflect a loss of confidence in the plane’s safety, the sources said.

Boeing took more than 5,000 orders for the Max before crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people and led regulators around the world to ground all Max jets.

The coronavirus pandemic has compounded Boeing’s problems by causing a sharp drop in air travel and a loss of interest in new planes. Nearly 40% of the world’s passenger jets are idled, according to aviation data supplier Cirium, as most airlines have more planes than they need until travel recovers.

That has made it more difficult to finance planes. United Airlines and Southwest Airlines found foreign lenders who agreed in April and May to buy Max jets and lease them to the airlines, but those carriers are in stronger financial situations than American.

American has accepted $5.8 billion in federal aid to pay workers, reached tentative agreement on a $4.75 billion federal loan, and lined up billions more in available cash from private lenders to survive the travel downturn.

Air travel in the U.S. fell about 95% from the beginning of March until mid-April. Traffic has recovered slightly since then, but remains down more than 70% from a year ago.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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