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Debate over Reclining your Airline Seat; China's under Fire Over Coronavirus; Trump attacks Bloomberg as Poll Numbers Rise. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired February 17, 2020 - 08:30   ET




ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, this viral video of an airplane passengers repeatedly pushing, or punching or whatever you want to call that, the passenger in front of him is sparking a heated debate. Is it wrong to recline your seats on an airplane?

Joining us now we have Travel Channel host Oneika Raymond and Scott Mayerowitz, executive editorial director of "The Points Guy" travel website.

So great to have both of you here.

That woman, who was sitting in that seat, whose seat was being punched or pushed, has just spoken out. So let's hear what she said this morning.


WENDI WILLIAMS, AIRLINE PASSENGER: Hits just kept going, coming, literally and figuratively --


WILLIAMS: From the guy, then the flight attendant --


WILLIAMS: When she finally did come around, she didn't -- she had an attitude with me and said, what? And I said, the guy behind me is repeatedly hitting me. And she went back to him and like changed personalities and was the kindest person in the world and said, oh, are you OK? It's really tight back here. I'm sorry. And then she said to me, delete the video.


CAMEROTA: Well, she did not delete the video. And that's what we're all doing here.

And what is the answer, Scott? Are -- am I allowed to recline my seat or not?

SCOTT MAYEROWITZ, EXECUTIVE EDITORIAL DIRECTOR, "THE POINTS GUY": It's your seat. You can recline it. But you should be respectful of that. You should look back and see if someone's working on their laptop or has a hot cup of coffee there and then gently recline the seat. Don't slam it back so that you're hurting somebody.

Do you agree, Oneika?

ONEIKA RAYMOND, CORRESPONDENT AND HOST, TRAVEL CHANNEL: Look, I think, in a perfect world, courtesy is wonderful. I would definitely want to look back and make sure that, you know, with my fellow man, I'm being kind. But, at the end of the day, I do have the right to recline my seat. I've paid for that function. And if you don't like it, that's really unfortunate.

CAMEROTA: I mean the seats recline.

RAYMOND: They do recline indeed. Indeed.

MAYEROWITZ: On most airlines, not all.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Yes, you're right.


CAMEROTA: I've known -- I have been on some flights recently where they don't recline. But, for the most part, most of our lives, the seats reclined. If they were a problem, why do seats recline, number one, or have they changed? Have -- are they stuffing more passengers in and that's why this is a problem?

RAYMOND: And I think that's the fundamental issue here. The airlines are to blame, not the passengers. We're all victims. We're all finding ourselves in these really tough, uncomfortable situations. So we should be lobbying the airlines to not be as greedy and to stop stuffing so many seats into this little tin can.

MAYEROWITZ: Well, at the end of the day, you want cheap airfare.


And the only way you get cheap airfare is to cram more people into planes. And I'm not defending the airlines here, but, at the end of the day, they need to fill those seats to make money. They need to cram in another row or so and we all suffer as a result of it.

And it's not just legroom, it's elbow room. You know, 85 percent of seats are sold today compared to 70 percent two decade ago. And that little elbow room space and the seat recline, you're cramped in there.

CAMEROTA: But, Oneika, you sound like an unapologetic recliner.

RAYMOND: Oh, I am absolutely unapologetic. And I think that reacting with violence towards somebody who is exercising their ability to recline their seat when the seat absolutely does recline, I find that preposterous. And I can't believe this is something that we're debating in 2020.

CAMEROTA: But does it give you pause? Having seen that guy right there do what he's doing and the fact that this has become a conversation, are you going to think twice about reclining your seat?

RAYMOND: Absolutely not. I don't understand why I should sacrifice my comfort for the comfort of the stranger behind me.

MAYEROWITZ: Because, at the end of the day, that stranger might be working on the laptop or you might want to work on the laptop. And, I've been there, where my laptop was fully open, I'm typing away, and the seat comes back and almost crushes my laptop.

RAYMOND Totally understandable. But, at the end of the day, if I have back issues, and even if I don't, I shouldn't have to justify reclining a seat that I have paid for that has that functionality.

CAMEROTA: You know, Jim Sciutto had a crazy idea. He said, why didn't the guy just politely ask her not to recline her seat?

RAYMOND: Absolutely.

CAMEROTA: Would that ever work?

MAYEROWITZ: Yes, I've had that on planes where there are passengers behind me who, you know, seem to really struggle with that. And instead of reclining all the way, maybe I just recline back an inch, not the full 3, 4 inches. And you've seen Delta Airlines respond to this. Last year they took 2 inches of seat recline out of 150 of their planes on the short haul flights because they know they're used for daytime when people are working, so you've got less recline and less incidents of people (INAUDIBLE).

CAMEROTA: That's interesting.

RAYMOND: And a number of budget airlines in Europe, i.e., Ryanair, don't have that reclining function.

CAMEROTA: Different rules for, you think, night flights and morning flights than daytime flights? You both agree?

RAYMOND: Sure. Absolutely. If I'm flying 12 hours to Hong Kong, 15 hours to Hong Kong, I absolutely will make use of that reclining function. And I think that that is an understanding that most of us will have.

Now, this flight was taking place from New Orleans to Charlotte. It's a shorter flight. Still, I don't believe we should vilify Wendi Williams for having exercised her right to recline her seat.

CAMEROTA: That's the woman who just spoke out. That was the passenger.

And, Scott, by the way, I think -- I liked your suggestion of checking behind you, but it's not that easy to see behind you on a plane. It's not -- I mean that's not that easy to figure out exactly what's going on behind you.

MAYEROWITZ: Yes. And, look, some of the planes, the mechanism works. You hit the button and it gently comes back. Some of them, it slams the seat back. And it's not a passenger's fault of that. But we're all in this together. It's -- you get to the airport, you fight the traffic, you go through TSA, you fight to get overhead bin space. By the time you get to your seat, you're just angry. And we all need to just take a deep breath and relax and realize we're in this together.

RAYMOND: I think the world would be a better place if we were all courteous, but it can't necessarily be an expectation. And I think that's the discussion that we need to have here. And what is our reaction to somebody pushing back their seat? Somebody who is also in a very tight spot, so to speak. It shouldn't be to punch the back of their -- their seat.

CAMEROTA: I think we can all agree with that.


CAMEROTA: Oneika, people can read your blog, "Oneika the Traveler." Thank you very much for your thoughts on this, Scott Mayerowitz. Great to have you. Thanks, you guys, for the debate.

RAYMOND: Thanks for having us.


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: If we could all be more courteous, from her mouth to God's ears.

Still ahead this hour, a big boom that did not go quite as planned.



SCIUTTO: Mississippi is under a state of emergency now due to significant flooding near Jackson. Hundreds of people forced to evacuate their homes with the Pearl River still rising. It is expected to crest this morning at 37.5 feet. That's the highest level in decades there. That's a half a foot lower than earlier forecasts. Makes a huge difference. At 38 feet, a large number of homes would be flooded. We'll keep watching it.

CAMEROTA: It looks like Elton John will go ahead with his final two shows in Auckland, New Zealand, despite coming down with walking pneumonia. The 72-year-old music legend cut short his concert Sunday because of the illness. Elton John reached out to fans on social media saying he was, quote, deeply upset and sorry. He added, I want to thank everyone who attended the farewell tour show in Auckland. I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia earlier today but I was determined to give you the best show humanly possible.

SCIUTTO: Don't you love watching those. It was all systems go for the demolition of an 11-story office building in Dallas yesterday until it wasn't. You'll see there, a core piece of the building was still standing, even after all that dynamite. What's left of the high-rise has been dubbed leaning tower of Dallas. The site is part of a plan, 27-acre, a mixed use development project. Those plans on hold though until demolition crews can figure out how to get the leaning tower of Dallas to finally fall.

CAMEROTA: People love an implosion.

Meanwhile -- and they do. The ratings --

SCIUTTO: Literal and figurative, right? Yes.

CAMEROTA: The ratings for an implosion always spike. That's all I can tell you.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise as American evacuees from that cruise ship in Japan arrive in the U.S. What is President Trump doing to combat this?



CAMEROTA: We've had some breaking news this morning. These two charter planes carrying more than 300 Americans who were quarantined on that cruise ship in Japan. They are now back in the United States. You can see the video of them arriving early this morning.

But 14 of them have now tested positive for the coronavirus. And they were positive before boarding the flight, but officials decided to put them on anyway. So now everyone on board that flight has to be quarantined for another two weeks.

SCIUTTO: That's a lot of quarantine if the disease still spreads.

CAMEROTA: If it's not working.


CAMEROTA: This comes as "The Washington Post" reports some White House officials are worried about President Trump's praise of China's president because of China's lack of transparency and how they're handling this epidemic.

So let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN White House correspondent John Harwood.

John, great to have you here.

What -- how is President Trump and the administration, how are they planning to contain the coronavirus here?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the administration is taking a very positive public line. We know that the president keeps saying that warm weather, when we get to springtime, may quash the virus itself. That's not a scientific forecast or an adequate means of dealing with it. But, of course, the whole of government response, Center of Disease Control and others is on top of it.

But the challenge is the president, in his relationship with China, as our colleagues at "The Washington Post" report today, he's got -- the president's got two concerns.


One is, he doesn't want to raise questions about China's response because that rattles markets. And uneasy markets is not good for President Trump.

The second is, he says he doesn't want to criticize President Xi because Xi controls the government. And if he gets criticized, he may not work with the United States. That tells you something about how President Trump views the role of leadership in a large country, that it's subject to how people react to personal slights. That, indeed, is how the president has shown that he's reacted. Not sure that that's the case with President Xi, though.

SCIUTTO: Is there a plan for the U.S.? I mean there are already cases here. Not a great number of cases. But one thing that's clear about this virus is it spreads easily, very easily. What is the plan if cases begin to, I don't want to say skyrocket here, but if they begin to grow, and that's what tends to happen with viruses.

HARWOOD: Well, I think that the -- as I indicated before, you've got a range of government agencies, including the CDC, that are monitoring, that are attempting to respond in individual cases. The challenge is, if this thing continues to grow exponentially, that could overwhelm the government response and then you could need to see it taken to another level. We've not seen the creation of a special czar for handling this issue, as we saw under President Obama with the Ebola when he took Ron Clain (ph), a very experienced official at the highest level of government, put him in charge, and you had a very effective American response. It not only made a difference in the United States, but made a difference in West Africa where the outbreak originated.

So we haven't seen that level of response. I think the administration is not at that level of concern yet. But we're going to have to see what happens over the next several weeks.

CAMEROTA: But does President Trump trust that President Xi is being transparent enough about the real numbers and about the real situation?

HARWOOD: President Trump is not somebody who is deeply enmeshed in the nuts and bolts of government. I think he is assuming that President Xi is on top of the situation. There's concern among advisers here at the White House that President Xi's maybe not doing such a good job of containing this as we see new numbers every day. But I think that's not a judgment that the president gets deeply into. I think he responds to what his advisers say. But he's most concerned right now with the public posture that he has vis-a-vis President Xi for reasons of economic confidence and also for reasons of getting along with President Xi -- SCIUTTO: Right.

HARWOOD: And hoping that President Xi will therefore cooperate better with the United States.

SCIUTTO: All right, John, I'm going to ask you a political question now.

HARWOOD: Hit me.

SCIUTTO: The president has been vocal of late about Michael Bloomberg, as Michael Bloomberg has risen in the polls. He's been less vocal about the previous favorite target, Joe Biden, during that time. And we haven't heard for a while about the investigations into Joe Biden, which the president was tweeting about, commenting about a lot when Biden was higher in the polls. What does that tell us?

HARWOOD: Well, first of all, Joe Biden is obviously struggling badly in this race. He's had two very subpar performances in Iowa and New Hampshire. We'll see what happens in Nevada. But I think there's widespread expectation that he is not going to end up as the Democratic nominee. You've got to play it out. That's why they play the game. That's why they have the election.

But Mike Bloomberg is somebody who has now come off onto the stage from stage right with unlimited resources. Somebody who has a unique knowledge of President Trump over decades, has an ability to get under the president's skin, is much richer than President Trump, has built a successful business. And I think the looming figure of Mike Bloomberg as potentially somebody who could gin himself into the finals for the Democratic nomination, maybe become the Democratic nominee, I think that alarms President Trump.

And, you know, one thing Republicans have had going for them in the election so far is, while Democrats are fighting, they have accumulated a massive war chest at the RNC and the Trump re-election campaign. Well, that is peanuts compared to the war chest that's sitting in Mike Bloomberg's bank account.


HARWOOD: And Mike Bloomberg has a clever team of advisers around him. They've shown an ability to needle him. And I think Mike Bloomberg is rising extremely rapidly on the list of concerns for President Trump for November.


CAMEROTA: John Harwood, great to have you on NEW DAY.

HARWOOD: Hey, great to be here, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much.

OK, time now for "The Good Stuff," Jim.

SCIUTTO: Thank the Lord.

CAMEROTA: Some good news about air travel.

SCIUTTO: Really?

CAMEROTA: Well, we need that today. We introduce you to a mini horse flying in first class. This is about to make sense in a moment.

SCIUTTO: Is that a little Sebastian (ph).

CAMEROTA: Fred the mini service horse completed an around the country flight this week. Fred's handler tweeted this picture thanking Gerald Ford International Airport, American Airlines and airports in Dallas and Ontario, California.


Fred, who is house broken, we're happy to report, took up two first class seats. He prepared for the adventure for two months. His handler says she wanted to show that necessary service animals like Fred can manage air travel very well. She hopes the Department of Transportation will reconsider rules that restrict which species of animals can fly.

Look at how much better Fred, the horse, is behaving than that man who was punching the seat of his fellow passenger.

SCIUTTO: That's true. Well dressed as well. We've got to grant that there. And we'll see. You know, maybe there's a peacock just down the road -- one row down from there.

CAMEROTA: Anything is possible.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Very cute.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you here.

SCIUTTO: Nice to be here. Be here tomorrow, I think, if you'll have me.

CAMEROTA: I think -- yes, you have earned the right to come back tomorrow.

SCIUTTO: Fantastic.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much.

All right, CNN's breaking news coverage of the coronavirus outbreak will continue after this very quick break.