Starting Wednesday, United Airlines and American Airlines say they will resume selling middle seats on flights.
"They’re just doing the math and betting that there are few enough people who care that much that this is going to work out for them," said travel analyst Seth Kaplan.
Air travel is still down by more than 90%, and Kaplan said the major airlines are losing millions each day by not selling the middle seats.
"An airline like American, although in better shape than some airlines around the world, not in as good a shape as Delta or Southwest, may be just saying 'Hey we’ve got to get as much money as we can here by selling as many seats as we can,'" Kaplan said.
"There was substantial disappointment with American Airlines, a number of airlines that decided to keep the middle seat," said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC Tuesday. "We think it’s really important in individuals - whether it’s in a bus or a train or a plane - social distancing to the degree it’s feasible and at least have a reliable face covering."
American Airlines does mandate face coverings. Passengers will be notified one day in advance if their flights are crowded and can rebook at no additional cost or switch seats if any are available.
Competitors Delta and Southwest have said they do not have plans to fill middle seats at the moment.