The Latest on Coronavirus: Cruise Lines Have a COVID-19 Problem
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The Latest on Coronavirus: Cruise Lines Have a COVID-19 Problem

Editor’s Note: This post will be regularly updated with the latest news and updates on the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on travel. Scroll down or click for previous updates and stay tuned for additional coverage. 

 

Cruise Lines Have a Major COVID-19 Problem

Tuesday, Aug. 4 at 8:30 a.m.
Back in February and March when the threat of coronavirus was fresh and uncharted, ships full of passengers sick with the new virus off the coasts of California and Japan tarnished the image of the cruise industry.

Now months into the pandemic with most travel still on pause, two of the first cruise companies to resume sailing have reported major COVID-19 outbreaks onboard.

Many cruise companies have shut down through the fall – or even into 2021 – and some governments have banned cruising altogether, including the U.S. through at least September. But The Points Guy has chronicled the forced restart of the cruising industry, posing the question: “Did cruise lines try to return to service too soon?”

The answer seems to be an unequivocal yes.

Two weeks into resuming cruises, the Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten is dealing with a significant outbreak on its ship Roald Amundsen, with more than three dozen crew members testing positive for COVID-19. In Tahiti, the cruise company Paul Gauguin Cruises returned to port just days after departure when an American passenger tested positive. The cruise was subsequently canceled.

As COVID-19 cases climb across the globe, those outbreaks on some of the first cruise lines to resume sailing may only hamper an eventual comeback.

Read all our coverage of traveling and the coronavirus.
 

Air Travel Won’t Recover Until 2024, Report Says

Thursday, July 30 at 7:45 a.m.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is now projecting that air travel won’t return to pre-coronavirus levels until at least 2024, another year later than it previously anticipated.

IATA is the world’s largest airline industry group, representing nearly 300 carriers across the globe. And its latest forecast released this week paints a grim picture of how COVID-19 has decimated the airline industry – and how long it will take to return to normal.

Traveler numbers across the globe were down by 86.5% in June compared to the same month last year. While air travel picked up in May and June, that was driven almost entirely by domestic travel. And a resurgence of coronavirus cases in the summer has airlines warning about another downturn.

Thanks to lockdown and travel restrictions, international travel “remains virtually non-existent,” IATA CEO and Director General Alexandre de Juniac said.

“Passenger traffic hit bottom in April, but the strength of the upturn has been very weak. What improvement we have seen has been domestic flying,” de Juniac said in a statement. “All of this points to a longer recovery period and more pain for the industry and the global economy.”

The group’s forecast expects air travel will remain down by 55% by the end of 2020 compared to last year. By 2021, air travel will still be down 30%.

IATA faults sluggish consumer confidence, a precipitous drop in corporate travel, and the poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. and other countries for the grim outlook.

 

Delta Says This Type of Mask Won’t Fly

Tuesday, July 28 at 7:45 a.m.
As airlines ratchet up their mandatory mask policies, Delta now says a specific kind of face mask won’t pass muster to get on a Delta flight.

The Atlanta-based airline quietly updated its face covering policy this week to explicitly ban masks with an exhaust valve. Those masks have become popular for making it easier to breathe, but public health officials criticize them for expelling pathogens when people exhale.

Delta requires a mask or cloth face covering in-flight, in check-in lobbies, in Delta Sky Clubs, at the boarding gate, and on the jet bridge. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said last week it had banned more than 100 flyers for refusing to wear a mask. And the airline now requires anyone claiming a medical exemption to complete a virtual consultation with a Delta doctor before being allowed onboard without a mask.

Face masks have become the primary frontier for airlines to fight the spread of coronavirus in the sky. They’ve been required on nearly all major U.S. airlines since May. Just last week, American and Southwest said they’d require all travelers 2 years and up to wear a mask – with no more medical exemptions.
 

Southwest Will Block Seats Through October 31

Monday, July 27 at 9:15 a.m.
Southwest Airlines is capping ticket sales on all its flights through Oct. 31, extending the policy meant to ensure middle seats remain empty at least another month.

A handful of airlines have blocked middle seats on their planes to give passengers more space and peace of mind during the coronavirus pandemic. Delta and Alaska Airlines have committed to keeping middle seats empty through Sept. 30, while JetBlue says it block seats until Sept. 8. Meanwhile, other airlines like American, United, and many budget carriers will sell flights to 100% capacity.

But Southwest does things a bit differently. Rather than using assigned seating, Southwest flyers pick seats on a first-come, first-served basis during boarding. So Southwest has simply capped ticket sales at roughly two-thirds on each flight during the pandemic.

That policy was set to lapse Sept. 30. But Southwest now says that it will ensure there are empty seats on each flight through at least Oct. 31, going farther than any airline so far.

“We are limiting seats sold on each flight through at least October 2020 to allow for middle seats to remain open to allow for physical-distancing onboard our aircraft,” the airline told investors last week.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian has also suggested that Delta will extend its seat-blocking policy beyond September.

 

Southwest and American Say ‘No Mask, No Flight, No Exceptions’

Friday, July 24 at 8:30 a.m.
Southwest and American Airlines are the latest major carriers to beef up their face mask policies, requiring all travelers 2 years and older to wear a face covering – with no medical exemptions.

The two carriers announced those stricter policies this week. It comes on the heels of both United and Delta strengthening their on-board mask requirements in an effort to increase mask usage in-flight and weed out phony medical excuses for not wearing one.

United now also requires masks in all United-run areas of its airports, including check-in kiosks, baggage drops, United Clubs, baggage claims, and more. Delta now requires anyone claiming a medical reason for not wearing a mask to complete a virtual consultation with an airline physician before the flight. Travelers without a valid medical excuse won’t be allowed onboard – and may risk getting banned by Delta from future flights.

But American and Southwest are going even farther. Neither airline will allow medical exemptions from wearing a mask, period. Only children under 2 years old are exempt from the face covering requirement.

“If a Customer is unable to wear a face covering or mask for any reason, Southwest regrets that we will be unable to transport the individual,” Southwest said in a statement.

Southwest’s new mask policy takes effect Monday, July 27. American’s goes live Wednesday, July 29.

Masks might have become a major flashpoint nationwide, but airlines aren’t playing around. Delta CEO Ed Bastian said this week his airline has already banned more than 100 travelers from future flights for refusing to wear a face covering.
 

United Requires its Flyers to Wear Masks in Airports

Wednesday, July 22 at 9:30 a.m.
United will require all its customers to wear face masks throughout the airport, the airline announced Wednesday as airlines, airports, and governments worldwide are stepping up with strong face covering requirements and enforcement.

Starting Friday, July 24, the airline says passengers will be required to wear face masks in any United-run area of the 360-plus airports it operates. That includes kiosks, baggage drop-offs, customer service counters, baggage claims, gates, and United Club lounges. Passengers who refuse to comply may be denied boarding or banned from flying United while mask requirements are in place.

United is also cracking down on who is exempt from mask requirements. The airline now says that only children under the age of two are exempt. Anyone with a medical situation or extenuating circumstance who believes they should be exempt will have to contact United for permission.

“The most important thing any of us can do to slow the spread of the coronavirus is to simply wear a mask when we’re around other people,” United CEO Scott Kirby said in a statement.

Major U.S. airlines have required face masks onboard since May. United’s latest move on masks comes days after Delta ratcheted up its own enforcement, requiring anyone trying to board a Delta flight without a mask to complete a virtual consultation with a Delta physician to get approval.

Meanwhile, airports are stepping up, too. Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) airport was the most recent to make masks mandatory – it will require all travelers to don a face covering starting Monday, July 27.

 

American Warns 25K Workers of Job Cuts this Fall

Thursday, July 16 at 7:30 a.m.
American Airlines warned 25,000 workers of impending layoffs this week, the latest airline to hint at massive job reductions this fall after Congressional bailout funding runs out.

Congress passed a $50 billion package of payroll grants and loans to keep airlines afloat and retain employees until October. But with travel demand still low – and signs that it is turning for the worse as coronavirus cases spike nationwide – airlines concede that they’ll need to get smaller after that funding runs out.

CNBC reports that American sent 25,000 frontline employees notices that they may be furloughed come October – 29% of its entire workforce.

That number is not final: It could shrink (or swell) by the time Oct. 1 rolls around. U.S. labor laws require companies to warn employees of mass layoffs or furloughs at least 60 days in advance.

The 25,000 headcount includes nearly 10,000 flight attendants and 2,500 pilots – 37% and 18% of those worker pools, respectively. It also includes another 3,200 maintenance workers and 4,500 fleet service employees.

American is far from alone in facing massive job cuts. Earlier this month, United warned 36,000 employees of looming layoffs. Delta told investors this week that it may be able to avoid involuntary job cuts altogether as 17,000 employees and counting have taken buyout packages to leave the airline.
 

 

JetBlue, Alaska Will Block Middle Seats through September

Monday, July 13 at 9:30 a.m.
JetBlue and Alaska Airlines will cap ticket sales and block middle seats on all flights, joining Delta and Southwest in guaranteeing travelers more space onboard.

JetBlue had previously only blocked middle seats through the busy Fourth of July travel weekend. But the New York-based airline now says it will keep middle seats empty through Sept. 8, 2020, according to One Mile at a Time.

Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines says it is “limiting the number of guests on our flights and blocking seats” through Sept. 30. Both airlines have also blocked aisle seats on smaller regional jets to ensure travelers don’t sit next to a stranger.

Delta is also blocking middle seats on its flights through Sept. 30, making that promise the cornerstone of its bet that emphasizing will win travelers back. Southwest is also capping seat sales on each flight to keep middle seats empty through September.

And then you have American and United, which aren’t blocking seats and will sell flights to 100% capacity. American earned scorn last month when it announced that change for flights July 1 and onward.
 

United Warns it May Lay Off Up to 36,000 Workers

Wednesday, July 8 at 11:30 a.m.
United Airlines plans to send layoff warning notices to as many as 36,000 employees, an eye-popping number that may soon become commonplace as airlines are forced to drastically shrink to survive the coronavirus downturn.

Congress passed a $50 billion bailout package of payroll grants and loans to keep airlines afloat and retain employees until October. But airlines concede that they’ll need to get smaller after that funding runs out.

Skift reports that United will soon issue layoff notices to 15,000 flight attendants, 11,000 customer service agents and gate agents, 5,500 maintenance employees, and 2,250 pilots, among others. U.S. labor laws require companies to warn employees of mass layoffs at least 60 days in advance, but the numbers may change

“The reality is that United simply cannot continue at our current payroll level past Oct. 1 in an environment where travel demand is so depressed,” the Chicago-based airline told employees on Wednesday.

While the layoffs at United alone are massive, they are just the tip of the iceberg of a storm coming for the travel industry in the U.S. and abroad.

Despite a steady uptick since April, air travel remains down by nearly 70% or more. And airlines have sounded alarm bells that even that modest recovery has taken a turn for the worse as coronavirus case counts climb throughout the U.S.

With travel demand down and a return to normal many years off, airlines simply can’t afford to be as large as they were a year ago. And that means layoffs. United is just the first to put a number on them.

Late last month, several major aviation unions asked Congress to pass another multi-billion dollar financial rescue package to forestall layoffs. But it’s unclear whether there’s the political appetite in Washington, D.C. to give airlines another bailout.
 

Aeromexico Joins Ranks of Airlines Filing for Bankruptcy

Wednesday, July 1 at 7:30 a.m.
Aeromexico announced Tuesday evening it had filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protections, becoming just the latest carrier to enter bankruptcy during a coronavirus pandemic that has turned airlines upside down.

Mexico’s flag carrier said filing for bankruptcy won’t disrupt customers. All tickets, reservations, vouchers, and miles in its Premier Points program are still valid, according to Reuters. And the airline is still planning ramp up its flight schedule in July despite the bankruptcy proceedings.

That underscores an important point: Just because an airline enters bankruptcy doesn’t mean it’s going out of business. Unlike chapter seven bankruptcy proceedings that lead to liquidation, Aeromexico’s chapter 11 bankruptcy is for corporate restructuring.

Read more: My Airline is Filing for Bankruptcy. Now What?

And those bankruptcy filings have become commonplace during coronavirus – especially in Latin America, where governments have resisted bailing out struggling airlines. Both LATAM and Avianca, the two largest carriers in the region, entered bankruptcy earlier in the spring.

Aeromexico is also just the latest foreign airline in Delta’s portfolio to enter bankruptcy. Delta owns 49% of Aeromexico and roughly 20% of LATAM.
 

Airline Unions Ask Congress for Another $32B Bailout

Friday, June 26 at 7:45 a.m.
Several major unions representing pilots, flight attendants and other airline workers have asked Congress to pass another financial rescue package for the airline industry, saying it’s necessary to avoid massive layoffs.

Congress passed the CARES Act in late March, including $32 billion in grants for airlines (plus more in loans) to help them cover payroll through September. With travel demand still far down, U.S. carriers have repeatedly warned they’ll be forced to lay off employees come Oct. 1 without additional financial help.

Six major aviation unions sent a letter to top lawmakers this week asking for another $32 billion package to keep airline employees on the job through March 2021, Reuters reports.

“Should Oct. 1 arrive without extending the PSP grant job program mass layoffs are inevitable, as airline executives have acknowledged,” leaders from the unions wrote.

That request comes as Congressional leaders begin assembling another federal stimulus package. It’s unclear if Congress will have the political appetite for another massive bailout for the industry. Top airline executives were scheduled to meet with Vice President Mike Pence Friday afternoon, Reuters reports.

Airlines have focused on cutting their costs, raising money, and trying to shrink by offering voluntary retirement and early departure packages to employees. Still, they say those efforts won’t be enough to avoid layoffs until travel demand recovers.
 

19 Responses

  • Hi: How do you see the corona virus situation impacting long-term airline tickets prices? Do you think they might increase? I’ve been checking airfares and find them to be about the same price.

    • Short-term, there’s definitely some price-cutting going on in a targeted way – on select routes, by select carriers. Long-term, it’s just too early to say.

  • I am a USA citizen currently touristing Palawan Island, Philippines. We have tickets to fly out through Manila. However, now all flights are on lockdown and we can not go in or out of Manila. Our USA visa is only good for 30-days. The airport lockdown goes well past our time to leave. What happen when our US visa time runs out and we are locked out of flying?

  • AA will not waive their $150 fee to redeposit my miles to my account. Where are you getting the information that they are waiving their fees?

  • Can I begin my paperwork process for Global Entry now, or is that also on hold? If o can apply how long will the info be kept before I get to interview or come back into the US from an international flight in 2021 & complete the process at that time? Thank you

    • You can apply and may even reach the “conditional approval” stage during this shutdown, but you won’t be able to secure an interview any time soon. And you’re required to complete that interview within 1 year of being conditionally approved, so it’s probably best to just wait a bit.

      • I applied for Global Entry in February and am still in “Pending Review”. Hope it gets done before February 17 next year.

  • Kyle,
    We have airline tickets to Barcelona on Canada Air in May. We used rewards miles. We’ve been waiting to see if the flights would be cancelled and are hoping to recoup the miles. Is this likely in light of the travel ban to Spain? Thanks.

    • It certainly seems like it. Keep in touch with Air Canada and monitor your reservation. Depending on how you booked, you may even be able to cancel now and get your miles & taxes/fees back even before the airline itself cancels.

  • I liked the SWA CEO’s idea of temperature screening in mass even though it is not a perfect deterrent or predictor of Covid 19. I think it would make more sense for each airport to do this temporary screening for next two years. I don’t like standing in those stanchion lines close to people waiting to be screened. Airports could hire temporary people at the entry doors- best place to stop them. This may mean fewer entry doors or some doors being only for exiting. Prefer the local approach as we lose so much money with TSA program. That way the airlines and airport businesses would pay for it much like many parking lots are paid for. We do pay for airport parking here, but it is subsidized. Door entry screening will increase public confidence in air travel.

  • I personally would not get into an Uber or Lyft that I cannot see their face. If something happens and I cannot identify you…yeah no thanks lol

    • You can always book two one-way flights separately – just beware that it might be fairly expensive to do so.

  • Kyle, 6 emails and 7 phone calls to multiple Spanish Embassy/Consulates locations in the US last week resulted in ONE reply telling my client to contact the Embassy by email. He’s leaving for Spain this week, and of course, has not received a reply. How are we going to know if the EU bans US travelers BEFORE they leave. The airline tells me it’s the travelers responsibility to know the rules. If I can find the rules, how is my client going to find them?

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