Merkley Introduces Legislation to Ban Airlines’ Sale of Middle Seats As Coronavirus Infections Soar

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley today introduced the Maintaining Important Distance During Lengthy Epidemics (MIDDLE) Act of 2020, legislation that would require face masks on planes and ban the sale of middle or otherwise adjacent seats for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

The introduction follows Senator Merkley’s experience on a packed commercial flight.

“Filling planes to capacity, forcing passengers to sit shoulder to shoulder for hours at a time, is incredibly irresponsible during a pandemic,” said Merkley. “I’ve seen with my own eyes that airlines are willing to put their profit margins ahead of the health of their customers. If taxpayers are going to bail out airlines because they provide an essential service, it is not too much to expect the airlines not to make the pandemic worse.”

The MIDDLE Act of 2020 would prohibit air carriers from filling a seat adjacent to another occupied seat on a passenger aircraft during the pandemic, with the Federal Aviation Administration able to make allowances for families traveling together. The bill would also prohibit any potential passenger or crewmember from boarding an airplane without wearing a mask, and bar airlines from charging customers fees associated with seat switching undertaken by airlines to comply with the regulations.

In addition, today’s legislation requires air carriers to comply with the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Air Carrier Access Act in following the requirements of this bill without discriminating against passengers. The legislation also requires the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Department of Health and Human Services to issue guidance for additional exceptions based on federal public health guidance.

The full text of the MIDDLE Act of 2020 is available here.