Dr. Ethan Weiss, a University in San Francisco cardiologist, was returning from volunteering in New York City and was one of 24 health care professionals on the plane.
Two days prior to his Saturday flight, he voiced concerns to our sister station KGO-TV .
"I'm scared of getting on the airplane on Saturday. I've been taking care of COVID-19 patients for the last two weeks, and I'm more scared of getting on the airplane on Saturday than I'm walking into the hospital," Weiss said.
By the time everyone boarded, the plane was 85% full, with 22 open seats, United confirmed.
"I guess @united is relaxing their social distancing policy these days? Every seat full on this 737," Weiss tweeted.
In another tweet, Weiss noted that an April 30 email from United assured customers that the middle seat on every row would be blocked to provide more space on board.
Also I guess a lot has changed in 10 days pic.twitter.com/mIPdxL13KZ— Ethan Weiss (@ethanjweiss) May 9, 2020
"If I randomly happen to be seated in an aisle seat and the person in the window seat has COVID, I'm probably more likely to get infected there than I would be in the ICU," Weiss said during the interview before his flight.
ABC News reported that the 25 health care workers flew home for free, and that may have affected the situation. Paying customers who try to book a ticket cannot select adjacent seats.
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United released the following statement:
"We've overhauled our cleaning and safety procedures and implemented a new boarding and deplaning process to promote social distancing. Our flight to San Francisco had an additional 25 medical professionals on board who were flying for free to volunteer their time in New York - we've provided complimentary flights for more than 1,000 doctors and nurses in the past few weeks alone - and all passengers and employees were asked to wear face coverings, consistent with our new policy.
Last month, we began limiting advanced seat selection for adjacent seats in all cabins, including middle seats where available and alternating window and aisle seats when seats are in pairs.
Though we cannot guarantee that all customers will be seated next to an unoccupied seat, based on historically low travel demand and the implementation of our various social distancing measures that is the likely outcome."