Hospitality Ireland Presents Round-Up Of Global Travel, Airline And Aviation News
Published on Oct 26 2021 9:20 AM in General Industry tagged: Qantas / Heathrow / American Airlines / Hainan / Hainan Airlines / Air France-KLM / Airbus / Qantas Airways Ltd. / HNA Group / HNA / Qantas Airways / Southwest Airlines / TSA / SkyWest / Flixbus
Hospitality Ireland presents a round-up of global travel, airline and aviation news. FlixBus Owner Hitches Ride With Greyhound As FirstGroup Exits British transport company FirstGroup has sold its U...
Hospitality Ireland presents a round-up of global travel, airline and aviation news.
FlixBus Owner Hitches Ride With Greyhound As FirstGroup Exits
British transport company FirstGroup has sold its U.S. intercity coach network, Greyhound, to Germany's FlixMobility after more than two years of trying to offload the iconic brand.
The sale, for an enterprise value of about $46 million, marks FirstGroup's exit from its international operations. Earlier this year, it sold its U.S. school bus and transit business to private-equity firm EQT to focus on its UK bus and train operations.
FirstGroup will receive a total of $172 million in cash from the deal, the company said in a statement on Thursday October 21, a portion of which will be used to pay down Greyhound's liabilities and leases.
It will retain some properties and legacy liabilities of Greyhound, including pension and self-insurance.
Dallas-based Greyhound, a household name in North America since it was founded in 1914, was put up for sale in May 2019 as it battled with growing pressure from low cost airlines.
FlixMobility, owner of European intercity bus service FlixBus, said the purchase would help marry its technology and shared mobility expertise with Greyhound's nationwide presence.
Greyhound has a fleet of 1,300 vehicles and 2,400 employees, providing services connecting 1,750 destinations across North America.
The deal will help FirstGroup cut its adjusted net debt to approximately £10 million to £20 million, approximately £80 million to £90 million lower than an earlier forecast.
American Airlines Posts Profit Vs Year-Ago Loss As Travel Demand Improves
American Airlines Group Inc reported a quarterly profit compared to a year-ago loss on Thursday October 21, as easing COVID-19 curbs strengthened travel demand ahead of the peak holiday season.
As the United States opens its borders to vaccinated foreign travellers on Nov. 8, U.S. carriers are expecting a strong holiday season after the health crisis sent travel demand plummeting in 2020.
"While the rise of the COVID-19 delta variant delayed some of our revenue recovery, it has not stopped our progress," Chief Executive Officer Doug Parker said.
The No.1 U.S. airline reported a net income of $169 million, or 25 cents per share, in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with a loss of $2.40 billion, or $4.71 per share, a year earlier.
Excluding items, the company posted a third-quarter net loss of $641 million, or 99 cents per share.
Total operating revenue jumped 183% to $8.97 billion.
The airline ended the quarter with approximately $18 billion of total available liquidity.
Booming Private Jet Market Stretches Rich Buyers As Climate Clouds Gather
Private jet demand has boomed during the pandemic as the wealthy took control of their travel, yet the flight to luxury could have limited runway as some buyers spend beyond their means and the sector presents a prime target for climate critics.
Bidding wars for second-hand planes and premiums for early delivery of new ones dominated chatter at the National Business Aviation Association's (NBAA) show in Las Vegas last week.
It's a boon for publicly traded corporate planemakers who are increasingly selling aircraft without the discounts that had become pervasive after the industry fell from favor in the 2008-2009 financial crisis.
General Dynamics Corp's Gulfstream Aerospace, Bombardier, Textron and Dassault Aviation are leaders by value of deliveries, which supplier Honeywell values at $238 billion over the next decade.
"I'm hearing from people every day who are interested in getting into private aircraft," said Stephen Hofer, president of Aerlex Law Group, which does aircraft transactions.
But the influx of new entrants, often wealthy individuals and families who upgraded their travel from first-class airline tickets during the pandemic, brings some new risks.
One veteran broker described a new buyer who had purchased a plane at prices he could only afford by leasing the aircraft for part of the time to other travelers. If leasing demand wanes, the buyer could have difficulty paying for the jet, warned the broker who spoke candidly on condition of anonymity.
"These are people who have never got a $1 million maintenance bill before," said the broker, adding such practices are reminiscent of market activity before the 2008 crash.
Still, U.S. business jet flight hours rose 16% during early October compared with October 2019, itself the strongest month for activity since 2008, according to consultancy WingX.
And many executives, analysts, aviation lawyers and brokers are confident the rebound will continue into 2022.
"The activity rebound in 2021 is increasingly being seen as a green light for faster industry growth the next few years, not just a one-off bounce from the pandemic," said WingX Managing Director Richard Koe.
Deliveries are set to rise from approximately 700 a year now to approximately 900 by 2025, but still have room to grow given the peak 1,300 planes delivered in 2008, analyst Brian Foley said.
Business jet production will however be limited by supply-chain capacity, added Don Dwyer, co-managing partner of aircraft brokerage Guardian Jet.
One unknown quantity is the amount of business-related travel, which is expected to take longer to recover than the leisure trips that underpin domestic U.S. airline traffic.
Vinayak Hegde, president of private aviation company Wheels Up, said he was now seeing more senior executives traveling for business.
But some companies are backing away from travel and setting "carbon budgets" to reduce pollution, in a move that would weigh on airlines' business class and corporate jets, which generate more emissions per passenger.
The industry is also battling to fend off questions over its environmental record. It hit the headlines recently when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle drew media criticism for using private jets despite their stance on climate change.
Investors in the industry want it to tackle the issue.
Kenneth Ricci, principal of Directional Aviation Capital, a private investment firm that funds and owns business aviation companies, warned that corporate aviation must take action on the environment or risk having it used against the industry.
"My biggest concern, the one I'm watching all the time is what we're going to do on sustainability," Ricci told a lunch event at the NBAA show. "We need to be vocally ahead of this."
Business jet firms followed airlines last week in committing to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, but environmental campaigners say the pledges don't go far enough.
"Business aviation is at a crossroads," said Jo Dardenne, aviation manager for Brussels-based Transport & Environment.
"If the sector wants to reach zero emissions, it should accept governments mandating the use of clean technologies and taxing wealthy private jet users to finance their deployment."
Southwest Airlines Expects Higher Costs To Keep Profit Elusive
Southwest Airlines Co posted a smaller-than-expected loss for the third quarter on Thursday October 21, and said that profit would remain elusive in the current quarter as mounting costs are expected to offset improved travel bookings.
The Texas-based carrier has had to cancel flights en masse partly due to staff shortages, having earlier added more flights to its schedule to capitalize on a hoped recovery in air travel as pandemic restrictions eased.
Such cancellations earlier this month are expected to result in a $75 million hit to October revenue.
"Third quarter 2021 was a challenge for us, operationally," Chief Executive Gary Kelly said in a statement.
"We have reined in our capacity plans to adjust to the current staffing environment."
Southwest expects its capacity to be down about 6% in the first quarter of 2022 compared with the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.
The company said it was aggressively hiring, with the aim of having about 5,000 new employees by the end of this year.
It expects four to five points of the unit cost increases in the current quarter due to efforts to bolster staffing, cost inflation related to lower productivity, and vaccination incentive pay. Southwest is also facing higher airport costs.
As a result, overall costs are estimated to rise between 8% to 12% in the quarter through December compared with the same period in 2019.
After taking a hit from the Delta variant of the coronavirus, Southwest said revenue and travel bookings have improved since the second half of September.
Still, it expects a $40 million impact on October revenue from lingering effects of the pandemic.
Excluding items, the Dallas-based airline's net loss narrowed to $135 million, or 23 cents per share, in the quarter ended Sept. 30, from $1.17 billion, or $1.99 per share, a year earlier.
Analysts on average expected Southwest to report a loss of 27 cents per share on revenue of $4.58 billion in the third quarter, according to Refinitiv data.
American, Southwest Flag Inflationary Risks After Reporting A Travel Rebound
U.S. carriers American Airlines and Southwest Airlines on Thursday October 21 warned mounting inflationary pressures could overshadow strong holiday demand and delay a complete return to profit.
Both the Texas-based carriers posted a smaller-than-expected loss in the third quarter, but said rising fuel prices as well as higher labor costs are hurting earnings in the quarter through December.
Oil prices have surged to multi-year highs this year, threatening a fragile recovery in the airline industry. American, for example, spent nearly 70% more on jet fuel in the latest quarter than a year ago. Southwest's fuel costs surged by 154% from a year ago.
Higher fuel costs tend to lead to result in less flown capacity and higher fares. Rival Delta Air Lines Inc, which expects fuel prices to result in a pre-tax loss in the current quarter, has suggested that it might pass along the increased costs to consumers.
Carriers are also trying to hire workers amid a pick-up in travel demand.
Southwest said it was aggressively hiring, with the aim of having about 5,000 new employees by the end of this year. However, a tight labor market is forcing the company to offer higher wages and better benefits to attract talent.
The airline has had to cancel flights en masse partly due to staff shortages, having earlier added more flights to its schedule to capitalize on a hoped-for recovery in air travel as pandemic restrictions eased.
Such cancellations earlier this month are expected to result in a $75-million hit to Southwest's October revenue.
"I would be the first to admit that things are messy," Chief Executive Gary Kelly said on an earnings call. "We've gone from not enough to do to too much to do in a very short period of time."
The company is also worried that the White House's vaccine mandate could worsen its staffing problem. Kelly said he is empathetic with those employees who don't want to get vaccinated against COVID-19, assuring the company won't fire any one for defying the mandate.
Southwest has adjusted its flight schedules in accordance with the staffing situation.
It expects its capacity in the December quarter to remain below the corresponding period in 2019. In the first quarter of 2022, its capacity is estimated to be about 6% lower than the pre-pandemic levels.
American said its capacity in the current quarter is expected to be down about 11% to 13% versus the fourth quarter of 2019. While revenue in the fourth quarter is estimated to recover to 80% of the 2019 levels from 75% in the September quarter, it forecast a pre-tax margin of minus 16% to minus 18%, excluding special items.
Both the carriers said the impact of the Delta variant of the coronavirus on travel bookings has bottomed out.
American expects domestic leisure revenue to surpass 2019 levels in the December quarter. It predicted that business revenue would fully recover to 2019 levels by the end of 2022.
Southwest said ticket sales for the upcoming holiday season are in line with 2019 levels. Still, it expects the Delta variant to result in a $100 million hit in the current quarter.
Its adjusted loss for the third quarter came in at 23 cents per share, compared with $1.99 per share last year. Analysts on average expected Southwest to report a loss of 27 cents per share, according to Refinitiv data.
American reported an adjusted loss of 99 cents per share in the third quarter, smaller than a loss of $5.54 a year ago and a loss of $1.04 estimated by analysts in a Refinitiv survey.
Southwest's shares fell 1.5% and American's rose 1.3%.
U.S. Airlines, White House Say Vaccine Mandate Will Not Impact Holiday Travel
Two major U.S. airlines and the White House said that they do not think the Biden administration's executive order mandating federal contractors require employee vaccinations by Dec. 8 will impact holiday travel or result in employees leaving.
American Airlines and Southwest Airlines announced earlier this month they would comply with the mandate that employees be vaccinated by Dec. 8 unless they receive a religious or medical exemption.
Some airlines and industry-watchers had initially feared an exodus of unvaccinated airline or government employees involved in travel just before the Christmas season but airlines later said that would not happen and cited comments from the White House this week.
Southwest Airlines Chief Executive Gary Kelly said on Thursday October 21: "We are not on a campaign here to force everybody to get vaccinated ... We want our employees to know that nobody is going to lose their job on December 9 if we're not perfectly in compliance."
He added: "We're not going to fire anybody who doesn't get vaccinated." He said the vaccination issue will not disrupt travel.
White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients on Wednesday told reporters https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/press-briefings/2021/10/20/press-briefing-by-white-house-covid-19-response-team-and-public-health-officials-62 the vaccine requirements for federal employees and federal contractors would not impact holiday travel.
"Vaccination requirements will not impact holiday travel," Zients said.
Some lawmakers including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have raised concerns about the impact on the Transportation Security Administration and travel.
"The requirements for federal workers and contractors will not cause disruptions to government services that people depend on. Agencies have the flexibility necessary to enforce the mandate without impacting critical operations," Zients said.
Zients added, "the point here is to get people vaccinated, not to punish them. So agencies will not be removing employees from federal service until after they've gone through a process of education and counseling."
American Airlines Chief Executive Doug Parker said on an earnings call on Thursday he does not expect any employees to leave as a result of the vaccine mandate.
"We think we're not going to see anyone leaving American. I don't think anyone's going to want to leave American because either they choose not to get vaccinated or they don't have a religious or medical (exemption)," Parker said.
Parker said the airline is "highly confident" it will have everyone needed to fly its holiday schedule even if some unvaccinated employees with approved exemptions face new testing requirements.
"We don't anticipate any operational impact," Parker said.
The Cargo Airline Association, a group representing FedEx Corp, United Parcel Service Inc and other cargo carriers, said in letter to the White House on Monday that "it will be virtually impossible to have 100% of our respective work forces vaccinated by Dec. 8 ... Sliding this date into the first half of 2022 will allow association members to meet the demands of the e-commerce revolution during the holiday season."
The letter, seen by Reuters, was previously unreported.
FedEx told Reuters on Thursday October 21 that it is "engaged with the relevant government agencies" on the guidelines.
Regional Carrier SkyWest Cancels 700 U.S. Flights Over Technical Woes
U.S. regional air carrier SkyWest Airlines cancelled approximately 700 flights because of an internal computer issue that crippled operations for five hours before it was resolved, the airline said on Thursday October 21.
SkyWest provides regional service for key operators such as American Airlines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
A spokeswoman for SkyWest said the schedule changes included flight "cancellations into tomorrow morning, as we work to get crews and aircraft into position."
SkyWest added it was working "to return to normal operations as quickly as possible."
SkyWest confirmed the problem was a "server issue" that affected operations for about five hours.
Earlier, United Airlines said on its website that SkyWest was "experiencing a server outage that has impacted multiple airlines."
Aviation website FlightAware showed SkyWest flights beginning to resume late on Thursday October 21.
Qantas To Step Up International Flying Amid "Massive Demand" From Australians
Qantas Airways Ltd said on Friday October 22 that it would speed up plans to restart flights to many destinations and use some bigger planes amid "massive demand" for international flying as quarantine restrictions ease for Australian citizens.
All 11,000 of the airline's staff idled without pay, around half its workforce, will return to work by early December as domestic and international flying returns to more normal levels, the airline said.
Qantas will bring back two of its flagship Airbus SE A380 super-jumbos in April - three months earlier than planned - and is in talks with Boeing Co about the delivery of three new 787-9s in storage to accelerate its international flight plans.
Qantas Chief Executive Alan Joyce said that for four of the last five weeks, the airline's international sales were stronger than domestic sales for the first time since the pandemic began. "There is massive demand for Australians wanting to see their family and relatives," he told reporters. "There is massive demand for loved ones wanting to get together for Christmas. There is demand for people wanting to take that holiday that they have been looking forward to for nearly two years."
The state of New South Wales, home to Sydney, last week said it would allow the entry of fully vaccinated travellers from overseas from Nov. 1 without the need for quarantine, although the easing of strict entry controls will initially benefit only citizens and permanent residents.
Qantas said it would launch a new route from Sydney to New Delhi on Dec. 6 and bring forward plans for flights to Singapore, Fiji, Johannesburg, Bangkok and Phuket due to the New South Wales rule change.
Neighbouring Victoria state, home to Australia's second-largest city Melbourne, on Friday announced a similar policy from Nov. 1.
Qantas said it would bring forward the start of flights from Melbourne to London by six weeks to Nov. 6 and to Singapore by three weeks to Nov. 22. It will look at bringing forward other destinations if possible.
Joyce said Qantas was also hopeful Indonesia would relax quarantine rules for Australians, allowing its low-cost arm Jetstar to begin flights to Bali by Christmas.
"It will be in the early new year at the latest, I think, and we've got aircraft ready to go," he said.
For the airline to make a full recovery in its loss-making international business, Australian rules will need to be eased further to allow international students, business travellers and tourists to enter the country.
Hong Kong and mainland China have also maintained tight quarantine rules that have stopped Qantas from resuming flights.
Spain's Airlines See More Winter Flights Than Pre-COVID, But Fuel Prices Bite
Spain plans more flights this winter than before the pandemic as an incipient recovery buoys hard-hit airlines, although surging fuel prices are a concern, the head of the country's ALA airline association said on Friday October 22.
"There are currently 1.9% more flights programmed for this winter period - roughly from November to March - compared to 2019," ALA president Javier Gandara told reporters, referring to domestic and international flights.
"And for the Canary and Balearic islands, planned flights are over 10% higher than in 2019."
But skyrocketing energy prices and fuel shortages could jeopardise that recovery in Spain, the world's second-most visited country before the pandemic struck.
As airlines return to the skies, increasingly congested airspace could create traffic jams and delay flights across Europe, Gandara noted, potentially putting off the holidaymakers who are now the market's key customers.
One bright spot for aviation, however, is the cargo sector, which transported 28% more freight in September year-on-year to reach nearly 99% of pre-pandemic levels, boosted by a lockdown-induced pivot to e-commerce.
Air travel's recovery needs a harmonised system of health passes, bilateral agreements with Spain's main tourism markets and more border control staff to reduce wait times, Gandara said, before renewing calls for the European Commission to establish a single sky policy.
The hope is for Spanish air traffic to reach 2019 levels of passenger numbers by the second half of 2022, said the head of ALA, which represents over 60 airlines that together fly around 80% of Spain's passengers.
Air travel to Spain has slowly begun to recover in recent months with 16.3 million passengers travelling in September, according to Spanish airport operator Aena, up 199% from a year ago but still less than half pre-pandemic levels.
China's HNA Restructuring Plan Approved By Creditors
Creditors of China's HNA Group have voted to approve the company's restructuring plan, according to a court comment posted on HNA's official WeChat page on Saturday October 23.
The court in China's southern island of Hainan, where the group is based, said the vote had been conducted in accordance with the country's bankruptcy laws.
HNA was placed in bankruptcy administration in February and a working group was created by the Hainan government to address the company's liquidity problems.
HNA will receive strategic investment of 38 billion yuan ($5.88 billion) after its restructuring, which will go to 11 of its entities including its flagship carrier Hainan Airlines .
In the 2010s, HNA used a $50 billion global acquisition spree, mainly fuelled by debt, to build an empire with stakes in businesses from Deutsche Bank to Hilton Worldwide .
But its spending drew scrutiny from the Chinese government and overseas regulators. As concerns grew over its mounting debts, it sold assets such as airport services company Swissport and electronics distributors Ingram Micro to focus on its airline and tourism businesses.
HNA Group told a meeting of creditors in June that some 67,400 parties were seeking a total of 1.2 trillion yuan, a person who attended the online meeting told Reuters at the time.
Airbus Rejects Pressure To Curb Record Jet Output Goal
Airbus has rebuffed calls by aircraft leasing companies to temper plans to almost double production of its best-selling A320 jet family, telling them its ambitions are justified by expectations for post-pandemic demand, industry sources said.
Major lessors have joined engine makers in warning Airbus that an aggressive output increase to a new peak above 70 aircraft a month could upset the market and hurt plane values while a recovery from the coronavirus crisis remains fragile.
The latest approach came in separate letters to Airbus from at least two of the world's largest leasing companies, the sources said, confirming a Financial Times report.
Airbus has responded by saying it is sticking to its plans, which involve a firm target of 64 A320-family jets a month in the second quarter of 2023, along with studies to raise monthly output to 70 in early 2024 and 75 by 2025.
That compares with about 40 A320-family jets a month now and what was then a record level of 60 before the COVID-19 crisis.
Airbus told leasing companies complaining about the plans that "demand is there", two people familiar with the matter said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
An Airbus spokesperson declined to comment on confidential correspondence but said: "We continue to work on our commercial aircraft production ramp-up in line with the planning communicated in May 2021."
Shares in the planemaker fell more than 2% on Monday.
Representatives of lessors AerCap and Avolon, which are reported to have written to Airbus, were not immediately available for comment.
The exchange deepens a row over the speed of recovery from a pandemic-induced travel slump that led to thousands of planes being grounded in the past year.
Although arguments over right levels of supply are common between jetmakers and lessors who rely on maintaining the value of planes, tensions have escalated since the pandemic as lessors have collectively overtaken airlines as the biggest buyers.
"It’s the normal tension, but Airbus have to play the game carefully," said one senior industry source. "Lessors always take their aircraft; you don’t want to alienate them too much."
Industry pioneer Steven Udvar-Hazy, executive chairman of Air Lease Corp, warned of the dangers of overproduction at an Airline Economics conference last month.
While most analysts agree that any recovery will benefit small jets such as the A320 and Boeing 737 first, the dispute focuses on whether it makes sense to raise output sharply before a glut of parked jets has returned to service - a step needed to rescue their earning potential for lessors and engine makers.
Airbus says its demand forecasts are based on verified contracts and that the supply chain needs transparency over its future production plans to finance future capacity.
However, it has yet to reach agreement with its suppliers over the most ambitious part of its plan.
"There is no agreement beyond 64 (a month); discussions are still happening," one supplier said.
Others cautioned that even those output levels must confront post-crisis challenges over labour, shipping and inflation.
Airbus aims to reach monthly output of 45 A320-family jets this quarter as a stepping stone towards its goals, but suppliers say the flow of parts is steady for now at about 40.
Suppliers are worried that they may be forced to invest in more machinery and factory space only to see demand fail to recover as quickly as Airbus hopes, while lessors fear that any excess output could chop years off the life of jets that they rent out, forcing them to take a hit on their balance sheets.
Engine makers fret that raising output of new jets too quickly could upset their own recovery by forcing existing jets into retirement rather than their repair shops.
Airbus this month suggested it would exploit competition between engine makers CFM and Pratt & Whitney to secure its output plans.
Both Safran, which co-owns CFM with General Electric, and Raytheon Technologies, which controls Pratt, voiced concerns over jet output at mid-year.
Airbus Executive Says Output Goal Based On Jet Deals
A senior Airbus official on Monday October 25 defended the European planemaker's output goals after it clashed with leasing companies worried about overproduction of jetliners.
Airbus hopes to almost double production of its best-selling A320 family as air travel gathers pace following the coronavirus crisis. Critics have accused it of ignoring the impact on jet prices and service revenues.
"The key to all this is that we have these firm contracts with our clients - we cannot say that we are not going to respect those contracts because we think they are too many for the business," said Airbus Latin America president Arturo Barreira, on the sidelines of the ALTA airline conference in Bogota.
"We have those commitments with our clients, so the demand is there and we are seeing that the interests of many airlines to improve the fleet are being reactivated," he told Reuters.
Industry sources said earlier on Monday Airbus had rebuffed calls for output restraint from leasing companies, which fear the effect of too much production on the value of existing assets.
The dispute deepens an industry split over post-COVID demand after Airbus also received flak from engine makers and other suppliers over the pace of its planned output increases.
Biden Imposing New International Travel Vaccine Rules, Lifting Restrictions
U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday October 25 signed an order imposing new vaccine requirements for most foreign national air travelers and lifting severe travel restrictions on China, India and much of Europe effective Nov. 8, the White House said.
The extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions were first imposed in early 2020 to address the spread of COVID-19. The rules bar most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in Britain, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil.
"It is in the interests of the United States to move away from the country-by-country restrictions previously applied during the COVID-19 pandemic and to adopt an air travel policy that relies primarily on vaccination to advance the safe resumption of international air travel to the United States," Biden's proclamation says.
The White House confirmed that children under 18 are exempt from the new vaccine requirements as are people with some medical issues. Non-tourist travelers from nearly 50 countries with nationwide vaccination rates of less than 10% will also be eligible for exemption from the rules. Those receiving an exemption will generally need to be vaccinated within 60 days after arriving in the United States.
Those countries include Nigeria, Egypt, Algeria, Armenia, Myanmar, Iraq, Nicaragua, Senegal, Uganda, Libya, Ethiopia, Zambia, Congo, Kenya, Yemen, Haiti, Chad and Madagascar.
The White House first disclosed on Sept. 20 that it would remove restrictions in early November for fully vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries.
"Families and friends can see each other again, tourists can visit our amazing landmarks. This policy will further boost economic recovery," State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
The Biden administration also detailed requirements airlines must follow to confirm foreign travelers have been vaccinated before boarding U.S.-bound flights.
One concern among U.S. officials and airlines is making sure foreign travelers are aware of the new vaccine rules that will take effect in just two weeks as well unvaccinated Americans who will face stricter testing rules.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued on Monday new contact tracing rules requiring airlines to collect information from international air passengers like phone numbers, email and U.S. addresses and retain it for 30 days in case it needed "to follow up with travelers who have been exposed to COVID-19 variants or other pathogens."
The CDC said this month it would accept any vaccine authorized for use by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization and will accept mixed-dose coronavirus vaccines from travelers.
That list leaves off the Sputnik vaccine that has been used by Latin American countries extensively.
In Mexico, the government has said it plans to use its 24 million doses of Sputnik to inoculate nearly 9% of the population. A Biden administration official said Monday October 25 that some other major vaccines "are going to be under review as the data on performance of those vaccines becomes available in a regulatory process."
The Transportation Security Administration plans to issue a security directive that provides the legal basis for airlines implenting the vaccine requirements. The attestation form notes it is a crime for air travelers lie about vaccination status.
The CDC said there are no religious exemptions for international travelers seeking to avoid COVID-19 requirements.
Foreign air travelers will need to provide vaccination documentation from an "official source" and airlines must confirm the last dose was at least two weeks earlier than the travel date.
International air travellers will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days prior to departure. The White House said unvaccinated Americans and foreign nationals receiving exemptions will need to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within one day of departing.
The Biden administration plans to issue details later this week of its parallel plans to lift restrictions to land border crossings on Nov. 8 for vaccinated foreign nationals.
U.S. TSA Issues Just 10 Passenger Fines For Mask-Related Penalties - Lawmakers
Two U.S. lawmakers said Monday October 25 that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has issued just $2,350 in total fines to 10 passengers for failing to wear masks since February, despite thousands of reports of airport passengers failing to comply.
House Homeland Security Committee chairman Bennie Thompson and Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, who chairs the transportation subcommittee, said in a letter that even though 4,102 reports of mask-related incidents were reported through mid-September, TSA has issued few fines and warnings to more than 2,000 passengers.
"We urge you to implement these enhanced penalties to curb the rising number of mask-related disruptive passenger incidents that threaten the safety and well-being of Transportation Security Officers (TSOs), airport and airline workers, flight crews, and other travelers," the lawmakers wrote, asking for answers to questions by Nov. 15.
A TSA spokeswoman said TSA Administrator David Pekoske "will respond directly to the members of Congress." Pekoske in July told lawmakers that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic there have been over 85 physical assaults on TSA officers.
In August, the Biden administration extended requirements for travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and buses and at airports and train stations through Jan. 18 to address COVID-19 risks.
The current CDC order in place since soon after President Joe Biden took office in January, requires the use of face masks on nearly all forms of transportation with the primary exception of private cars.
The requirements have been the source of some friction, especially aboard U.S. airlines, where some travelers have refused to wear masks. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which has instituted a "zero tolerance" enforcement effort on unruly passengers, through Oct. 19 has received 4,837 unruly passenger reports - including 3,511 mask-related incidents.
The lawmakers noted the FAA "has issued over $1 million in proposed fines against disruptive passengers generally. TSA must likewise hold offenders accountable to reinforce passenger confidence in air travel safety," the lawmakers said.
In some U.S. states, transportation hubs are among the only places where masks are still required.
What You Need To Know About The New U.S. International Air Travel Rules
The Biden administration's new rules requiring most foreign nationals to be vaccinated before flying to the United States take effect at 12:01 a.m. EST (0501 GMT) Nov. 8.
President Joe Biden signed a proclamation Monday Ocotber 25 that will lift the extraordinary U.S. travel restrictions first imposed in early 2020 to halt the spread of COVID-19 that bar most non-U.S. citizens who within the last 14 days have been in Britain, the 26 Schengen countries in Europe without border controls, Ireland, China, India, South Africa, Iran and Brazil. The most recent country added to the list was India in April.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday released a travel assessment tool for people planning international trips and there are extensive question and answer features for travelers.
* Starting Nov. 8, Foreign air travelers to the United States will be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to fly to the United States, with limited exceptions.
* Passengers will need to show an "official source" showing vaccination status, and airlines will need to match the name and date of birth to confirm the passenger is the same person reflected on the proof of vaccination.
* CDC has said it will accept FDA approved or authorized and World Health Organization (WHO) emergency use listed vaccines.
* All travelers must produce a negative viral test result within three days prior to travel to the United States. Unvaccinated U.S. citizens and others getting exemptions must provide a negative test taken within one day before traveling.
* Children under 18 are excepted from the vaccination requirement but children between the ages of 2 and 17 are required to take a pre-departure test.
* If traveling with a fully vaccinated adult, an unvaccinated child can test three days prior to departure, but if an unvaccinated child is traveling alone or with unvaccinated adults, they will have to test within one day before departure.
* Exemptions include certain COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial participants, those with valid medical reasons for not getting vaccinated and those who need to travel for emergency or humanitarian reasons, but they will need a U.S. government-issued letter affirming the urgent need to travel.
* The CDC said there are no exceptions https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/proof-of-vaccination.html#faq-overview for the vaccine requirements "for religious reasons or other moral convictions."
* Non-tourist travelers from nearly 50 countries https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#global-vaccinations with nationwide vaccination rates of less than 10% will be exempt from the requirements but must agree within 60 days to get vaccinated under most conditions.
* Travelers must sign an attestation https://www.cdc.gov/quarantine/pdf/vax-order-passenger-attestation-10-25-21-p.pdf that they have been vaccinated and are warned that "willfully providing false or misleading information may lead to criminal fines and imprisonment."
* The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to issue a security directive that provides the legal basis for airlines to check vaccine records.
* The CDC also issued a Contact Tracing Order that requires all airlines flying into the United States to collect and keep on hand for 30 days and disclose to the CDC if needed contact information like phone numbers, email and U.S. addresses that will allow health officials to track infections. The collection requirements take effect Nov. 8.
France Doesn't Intend To Exit Air France-KLM Capital - APE Head
France doesn't intend to exit the capital of airline company Air France-KLM in the coming years, Martin Vial, head of the French state shareholding agency APE, said on Tuesday October 26.
Vial also told reporters that the French state could take part in any new operation involving Air France-KLM's capital.
France has a 28.60% stake in Air France-KLM, according to data from Refinitiv.
Air France-KLM CEO Ben Smith said last month that the company was looking at raising fresh funds soon after completing a share issue earlier this year, bolstered by a positive trend in bookings since the United States announced it would reopen to European travellers.
London's Heathrow Says Full Travel Recovery At Least Five Years Away
London's Heathrow Airport does not expect air traffic to recover completely until at least 2026, with the number of passengers travelling through Britain's biggest airport well below pre-pandemic levels despite a pick-up in the past three months.
Passenger numbers in the third quarter recovered to 28% and cargo to 90% of pre-pandemic levels at Heathrow, but the airport has lost £3.4 billion pounds cumulatively since the start of the pandemic.
Its expectations echoed those of Spain's airport operator Aena, which also sees the timeline for a full recovery stretching until 2026. French airport operator ADP predicts traffic at its Paris airports will take until 2024 to reach 90% of pre-pandemic levels.
Heathrow, which handles a lot of long-haul flights and last year lost its crown as Europe's busiest hub to Paris Charles de Gaulle, has tried to soften the impact of the pandemic by raising its charges for airlines and asking the government to remove testing rules for vaccinated travellers.
Last week, the UK aviation regulator said it will not allow Heathrow to raise passenger charges by as much as it wanted, but airlines remain opposed to the size of the hike.
Heathrow said the Civil Aviation Authority's initial proposals "do not go far enough" for its investors to achieve a fair return but that it was reviewing the proposal and would respond by the end of the year.
The airport, owned by Spain's Ferrovial, the Qatar Investment Authority and China Investment Corp among others, said its shareholders have achieved negative returns in real terms over the last 15 years.
Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said the focus should remain on the global vaccination effort so that borders can reopen without testing, and that Heathrow itself needs a fair financial settlement with the UK aviation regulator.
"We are on the cusp of a recovery which will unleash pent-up demand, create new quality jobs and see Britain's trade roar back to life - but it risks a hard landing unless secured for the long haul," Holland-Kaye said.
Heathrow also warned on Tuesday October 25 that its operating costs would increase as it ramps up to meet increasing demand and as the furlough scheme ends.
Investors are eyeing a boost in international traffic later in the year, after the United States said thata it would lift travel restrictions for fully vaccinated international visitors from Nov. 8.