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Coronavirus Update: Major Changes Coming To Airline Industry For Travelers And Flight Attendants

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- JetBlue has become the first major U.S. airline to require passengers to wear facial coverings.

Most airlines, including United, Delta and American are requiring flight attendants wear masks. And several airlines are no longer booking the middle seats, and have also eliminated or reduced food services.

These changes come as passengers have complained about crowding on planes.

Passenger Erin Strine was shocked to board a nearly full American Airlines flight at JFK, with many people not wearing masks.

"I really felt like my life and the life of everyone around me was at risk. I just sat there silently crying into my mask because I was really overwhelmed by how unsafe I felt," said Strine.

The video went viral, and strengthened flight attendant union calls for more aggressive policies on social distancing.

"They actually came over the speakers to say the flight was nearly full and that people would not be able to move seats to social distance," she added.

American Airlines now says it will leave about half of its middle seats empty.

This week, another passenger said there was a lack of social distancing aboard her flight out of Chicago O'Hare, though there were only 20 people on board.

"It was like a claustrophobic scene. That's how it felt to me, because we didn't have space," said passenger Princess Johnson. "We just had our own seat, everybody was in their own seat, but everybody was covered. And I was in the middle. So everybody was together, basically. If someone sneezed, we all would have been sick."

Andrew Butte says his flight from LA into Mineta San Jose International Airport Tuesday evening was nearly empty.

"There was no more than one person per row on my flight. They had some of the rows separated so it doesn't get congested in places," said Butte.

Clint Henderson, Senior News Editor at The Points Guy, says there will be major changes to how airlines are going to be operating, including deep cleans between every single flight and crew members wearing PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

"Since we don't know enough about coronavirus, we think the airlines are actually being fairly cautious and fairly smart, and the truth is most planes are not really crowded right now," said Henderson.

The Points Guy recommends travelers plan their bucket list trips now, but book for several months out.

"We're recommending no one travel right now, we have seen some instances where people are jumping on cheap fares, especially younger people who are maybe not as afraid as they probably should be in general," he said. "We do not recommend that at The Points Guy."

Henderson suggests travelers book directly with major airlines and hotels, because right now many travel sites such as Expedia do not have flexible cancellation policies.

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