After overbooking flights in a pandemic, American Airlines is now paying passengers to get off

by Skylar Lucy

When she got on an airplane last Monday, Hilary Macatangay wasn’t planning to gamble with her health. Given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the design and marketing consultant showed up at the airport in El Paso wearing swim goggles and two masks layered over one another, ready to board the first of her two American Airlines flights home to Michigan.

To her dismay, as she made her way back to her seat in the 20th row, she realized it would be virtually impossible to maintain social distancing on the plane: Passengers filled every row including the middle seats; as far as she could see, only one place appeared to be unoccupied.

American Airlines had offered travelers up to $250 to switch to a different flight that “has more space” ahead of departure, but Macatangay had an appointment she couldn’t miss.

“I was mildly shocked,” she says. “We were sardines.”

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