No, AMC Theatres is not going to ignore its own social distancing guidelines and force strangers to sit next to each other when the cinema chain reopens this week.
That was a mistaken assumption that gained traction on social media when it was revealed that AMC was allowing patrons to buy tickets next to seats that had already been reserved. There’s a reason for that apparent disregard of the six-feet apart rule. AMC’s ticketing engine will automatically block out one seat on either side of every party beginning Monday, but the technology was not in place when tickets first started going on sale last week.
AMC is opening the doors to 100 locations on Thursday, but the chain will only allow auditoriums to be at 30% capacity. That means that 70% of seats will be left empty during any showtime, which will leave more than enough room between patrons, insiders say. There was never any intention to force perfect strangers to sit next to a seat that had previously been reserved for someone else. In fact, guests will be mandated to engage in social distancing to keep auditoriums free from coronavirus. It may mean, however, that there will be rare circumstances where guests do not end up in the seat they selected online.
AMC told Variety that to ensure the seat blocking technology is implemented without a hitch, the company needed a live ticket sales environment to test the new approach to reservations. It initially planned for a two week trial run, but after a successful launch, it has determined the results are satisfactory to roll out the technology to all theaters that accept reserved-seating nationwide. The rollout to the first wave of theaters should be complete by early this week.
Tickets for two prominent upcoming releases, “The New Mutants” and “Tenet,” have not yet gone on sale, and there will be automatic seat blocking for tickets to those shows in reserved-seating auditoriums. AMC hopes that roughly two-thirds of its approximately 600 locations across the U.S. will be operational by Sept. 3. Major markets such as New York and Los Angeles have yet to give approval for cinemas to reopen for business, which has slowed the revitalization of the exhibition industry.