All major US airlines, confident in measures like mask-wearing and the use of high-efficiency particular air filters, or HEPA filters, are moving away from the practice with no signs of reverting back to it while others never adopted it and are not likely to. Delta Air Lines is the last hold out with its policy slated to end on May 1.
But the reasoning goes well beyond the desire of airlines to turn a profit by filling planes.
“Multiple scientific studies confirm that the layers of protection significantly reduce risk, and research continues to demonstrate that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is very low,” Airlines for America, the trade organization representing many of the country’s major airlines including Delta, American Airlines, and United Airlines, said in a statement to Insider.
Airlines are already walking a fine line to prevent an onboard outbreak while trying to get flyers to come back. If an outbreak were to occur, the industry could go right back to where it was in March 2020 with mass cancellations and billions of dollars being lost.
Masks have been required onboard commercial airline flights for almost a year now and any major outbreak would have been well noted and investigated. The 2017 study also doesn’t take into account the measures being taken by airlines, one industry expert says.
“This is months-old data that overlooks a lot of changes in the real world policies and practices that the air transport industry has implemented since the study was first conducted,” Henry Harteveldt, industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, said of the just-released CDC report. Researchers ran the tests in a laboratory setting using mannequins that were not wearing face masks.
Harteveldt noted that each stud likely isn’t perfect, as the Harvard study was industry-funded. And while the DOD study is more dependable, it only used wide-body aircraft for its testing, a factor that Harteveldt says isn’t a major limiting issue considering the filtration systems are comparable on narrow-body aircraft.
Reverting back to the days of blocking middle seats would also wreak havoc on airlines that have begun selling tickets on planes to capacity for the summer.
“If you were to tell a passenger now, ‘oh, we have to rebook your vacation because we’re blocking middle seats,’ I think you’d have a lot of upset travelers,” Harteveldt said, noting airlines would like demand compensation from the government if it became law.
Travelers have indicated time and time again that they’re willing to fly on any airline if the price is right, regardless of the seat block. American Airlines and United Airlines had no trouble filling some flights in the first summer of the pandemic when flights were sold to capacity, as Insider found on multiple flights in June 2020.
“The consumers went where they could get the flights and fares that they could afford,” Harteveldt said. “And this was before vaccines were available and before wearing a mask was a federal mandate.”
Delta Air Lines is set to end its middle-seat block on May 1, at which point none of the 11 major US airlines will offer the policy. Airlines are also not alone as Amtrak and Megabus have also announced definitive ends to their seat blocking policies, as well.
The O’Leary Funds and O’Leary Ventures boss – whose nickname is Mr. Wonderful – also slammed celebrity SPACs, praised Robinhood, and trumpeted NFTs during the conversation with influencer Kevin Paffrath on his YouTube channel, Meet Kevin.
O’Leary also criticized the Biden administration’s plan to hike corporate taxes, and called for the US to take a tougher stance towards China.
Here are O’Leary’s best quotes from the interview, lightly edited and condensed for clarity:
1. “I’m waiting. So far there’s been no correction, but I’ve lived through lots of volatility and I know, just when it seems to be safe, poo poo happens.” – discussing the prospect of a market crash.
2. “GameStop’s brand has way more value today than it had five months ago, before it became part of every headline around the world, day after day. Netflix saw the writing on the wall when they were mailing DVDs to everybody and said, ‘We’re going to digitize this,’ and they had a brand. Maybe GameStop can do the same thing.”
3. “If I was short GameStop stock right now, I’d be worried. I think it’s going to get a second kick at life. This whole social constituency supporting it – the pricing of the stock is kind of irrelevant at this point.”
4. “It’s hilarious if you look at the volatility of Amazon over the last 20 years. You would have never owned it as it’s so volatile, but in the long run it’s created a trillion dollars’ worth of value for shareholders. Same thing is going to happen to these stocks that are going to provide digitization.” – underscoring the growth prospects of Zoom, Shopify, and other stocks that enable remote activities.
5. “It’s not good news for the airlines because even though they’re coming back, it’s all basically vacation tickets. Everybody’s going to Disneyland in a big tube. That’s a very crappy business, they won’t make any money. Over the next two years, probably a couple of them have to go bankrupt.” – underscoring the challenges for airlines if business travel permanently falls by 15% or 20%.
6. “Frankly I’m not a big fan of SPACs. I do have about 20 SPACs in my portfolio right now, but only from operators that I know. A SPAC is no different than private equity, and so I need to know the team that’s backing the SPAC has done deals before, knows how to buy at the right multiple, and knows how to operate. I’m against the idea that some celebrity knows what they’re doing in private equity, it’s a joke. I avoid those like the plague, I think those are going to go to zero.”
7. “I’m a big fan of Robinhood because even though it’s got a lot of criticism, it helps 22 million people learn about stocks. I’m a big believer in learning the ways of the stock market.”
8. “When you get into these complex straddles and collars and all of this stuff with leverage, sometimes you wake up with a hangover after going out to a party, and you forget the position you have on and you just blow yourself up. You’ve got to be careful.”
9. “I’m beyond sanctions, I want to take them right out of the financial system in North America.” – calling for the US to adopt a tougher stance towards China in order to level the playing field.
10. “Elon Musk is a maverick who doesn’t play by the rules, but he’s actually a good example of how this relationship should work. If American companies want to go to China, they shouldn’t have to give up control of their intellectual property to do that.”
11. “If you believe that burning up huge amounts of coal is detrimental and I do, you should stop buying bitcoin from the Chinese. Over time, as institutions start to really get involved in crypto, you’ll have the discounted blood coin from China and you’ll have the premium virgin coin with provenance – no different than blood diamonds.”
12. “NFTs are a derivative of the digital economy. There’s merit, but as a new asset class it’s going to be immensely volatile. The idea that you have something that’s copyrighted in perpetuity and can’t be forged is really interesting and a good idea. At the end of the day they will find their place.”
13. “You’re pouring free money out of the sky from a helicopter into anywhere you can stuff it. But then you’re raising taxes so you’re taking it back right away, before it has a chance to have any effect whatsoever. You can’t suck and blow at the same time, it doesn’t make any sense.” – criticizing the Biden administration’s plan to follow up its stimulus efforts by raising corporate taxes.
14. “The idea that Yellen can run around the world asking for a standard minimum corporate tax is a joke that’s never going to happen.”
15. “I covet downside protection much more than outperformance. I don’t care about beating the indexes at all. I don’t need more money, I need to keep what I’ve got.”
16. “Buying the dip is more rock and roll, but what invariably happens is you go through a massive correction and you learn a very important lesson. The generation that is trading right now has never gone through a sustained correction. It’s coming – I don’t know when, I don’t know what’ll trigger it, but they will learn their lesson. If you have a lot of leverage on, it’s a hell of a lesson because you end up in a negative net-worth position. But you do learn from it.”
17. “Take 10% of your paycheck, put it away, and do not touch it except in emergencies. When you take money and burn it on a vacation, or buy some useless piece of crap you’re never going to use – which many people are guilty of including me – you’ve killed off your future. That money’s not working for you anymore. Do you really need another pair of jeans, another pair of shoes? Just look at your closet of all the crap you don’t wear, that’s all money you wasted.”
18. “If you walk around with an Apple Watch on, that thing is a piece of consumer-electronic junk. I own Apple stock, but I would never be seen dead with an Apple Watch. Not a chance in hell.” – voicing his preference for wearing traditional watches and supporting conventional watchmakers.
Canadian tourists are once again stimulating the economies of American border cities and bringing back the “Buffalo shuffle” despite the border between the two countries remaining closed to non-essential travel.
Transportation companies in Buffalo, New York, are experiencing a long-awaited boom in business by catering to Canadians heading north, CBC is reporting, and the reason is a loophole that allows them to avoid mandatory COVID-19 hotel quarantines when arriving back home.
Recently enacted travel restrictions in Canada require that residents returning by air quarantine in a hotel at their expense, up to $2,000 (Canadian), according to CBC. Canadians traveling across the land border, however, need only submit to a home quarantine while undergoing extensive testing for the coronavirus, in addition to providing a recent negative test to border guards.
Buffalo is one outpost that’s seen an uptick in Canadian visitors, but not directly from Canada. Visitors from the north have been arriving by air from parts of the US and making the last stretch of their journey home by land, crossing the world’s longest border by car.
One transportation company, Buffalo Limousine, told CBC that it transports an average of 50 Canadians per day and business has increased by 50%. The pandemic nearly decimated the company, along with countless businesses that relied on Canadian customers.
A Buffalo Limousine trip from Buffalo-Niagara International Airport across the border to Fort Erie, Ontario costs around $120 one-way for the 17-mile trip, CBC said.
Public transportation options before the pandemic included Megabus Canada and Amtrak, which took passengers from Buffalo to Toronto with stops along the way. Both have stopped cross-border services during the pandemic, according to their websites.
Ironically, US border restrictions prevent Canadians that aren’t also American citizens from entering by land so flying is the only option for many to enter the Land of the Free. A winter visitor to the US, for example, would have to fly from Canada to the US and then fly to a border town like Buffalo to drive back in to avoid quarantine.
The rules have created another niche industry in Canada that supplies short, cross-border flights so Canadians can take advantage of the loophole. CBC reported in February that many Canadians continued to flock to the US even after their government had enacted stricter travel restrictions, and one company even started offering international helicopter flights.
Great Lakes Helicopters operates 28-mile flights from St. Catharines, Ontario, near Niagara Falls to Buffalo, which costs $1,500 (Canadian) plus tax, according to its website. Canadians can even drive to St. Catharines and have the company ship their cars across the border – cross-border trucking has not stopped during the pandemic – for between $700 and $1,600 (Canadian), depending on the size of the car.
But temporarily gone are the days of Canadians driving across the border to an airport like Buffalo-Niagara International, Ogdensburg International, or Bellingham International, to avoid paying the high taxes levied on international flights from Canada to the US. Major airlines have largely pulled out of border airports during the pandemic, as a result of the border closure.
Allegiant Air packed up from Ogdensburg, New York, billed as an alternative to Canada’s capital of Ottawa just 60 miles to the north, according to 7 News. Plattsburgh International Airport in New York, an alternate to nearby Montreal, and Niagara Falls International Airport, an alternate to nearby Toronto, also saw some flights disappear during the pandemic, according to the Press-Republican and the Buffalo News.
But Southwest Airlines is preparing for the eventual easing of border restrictions and announced service to Bellingham, Washington, slated to launch sometime in 2021. Bellingham is just south of Vancouver and could attract British Columbia residents seeking to head to points south on the cheap.
The US is vastly outperforming Canada in vaccinations per 100 people, according to the New York Times, and the mutual decision to keep the border closed will ultimately depend on how comfortable Ottawa is in allowing cross-border travel along its southern frontier once more.
Erik Harvey, his wife Michelle, and their toddler Jackson were all ready to fly from Denver to Austin on April 1 through Southwest Airlines, Fox News reported.
Aware of the federal regulations for all flight passengers over the age of two, the parents knew their son was required to cover his face for the duration of the flight.
“I practiced with him at least two or three times at the house and every time he threw it off, but I figured that [Southwest] would work with us on the plane because he’s 2,” Michelle Harvey told Fox 7.
When the family boarded the flight, Jackson was wearing his mask. “Everything was going swimmingly … until it wasn’t. That’s when Jackson threw off the mask and “was done wearing it.”
“The flight attendant comes over and she says, ‘Ma’am he’s not wearing his mask, you’re gonna have to leave the plane,'” Erik Harvey said.
James Peck, an old friend and private pilot, spotted a social media video about the family’s experience and decided to offer them a private flight to Austin at no cost, per Fox 7.
“I knew that I could use that as a great excuse to go take a flight and help them out and get them here,” Peck said. He has even offered to fly the Harveys back to Denver after their trip ends.
Acknowledging the selfless deed, Harvey told Fox News: “The miracles will come to you, things will show up, and that Good Samaritan will show up.”
It’s lights, cameras, action for America’s newest airline that’s planning its Hollywood debut later this month.
Avelo Airlines plans to launch flights on April 28 from Hollywood Burbank Airport near Los Angeles, giving travelers yet another option when planning pandemic getaways. The new ultra-low-cost airline is focused on cheap leisure flights and will fly to popular destinations in the American West from before expanding across the country.
“Avelo is a different and better kind of airline, built from scratch to offer an affordable, convenient and caring travel experience,” chief executive Andrew Levy said in a press release.
The initial slate of 11 routes from Burbank include flights to:
Santa Rosa, California from April 28;
Pasco, Washington from April 29;
Bozeman, Montana from April 30;
Phoenix, Arizona from May 3;
Ogden, Utah from May 4;
Colorado from May 9; Medford,
Oregon from May 9;
Eugene, Oregon from May 12;
Bend, Oregon from May 13;
Eureka, California from May 19; and
Redding, California from May 20.
Burbank, just north of downtown Los Angeles, offers a convenient alternative to Los Angeles International Airport that the company hopes will help spur bookings and encourage flyers to travel.
“A big part of our business model is not just offering every day, great fares,” Levy told Insider. “We’re a low-cost carrier. We’re built to offer low fares, but at the same time we’re going to offer a great level of convenience by utilizing Burbank, which we think is probably the best secondary airport in the country.”
An airport stuck in time, the one-story terminal building at Burbank resembles a scene from the 1950s. Passengers are required to board aircraft directly from the tarmac since there are no jetways. .
The Boeing 737-800, a tried and true narrow-body aircraft that can seat 189 people in the airline’s all-economy configuration, will be Avelo’s flagship aircraft. The plane is a staple of other well-known low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines, Sun Country Airlines, and Ryanair thanks to its low operating costs and high availability on the market.
In true ultra-low-cost fashion, flyers won’t find seat-back entertainment screens – though WiFi may be coming within the next year. Avelo says it’s working with potential suppliers for the service.
In-flight snacks and drinks service won’t be offered in the airline’s initial run, either, due to the pandemic. Customers will instead receive a “convenience package” with hand sanitizer, a bottle of water, and a small snack.
The bulk of the aircraft’s seating are “slimline” seats, the term for thinner seats on airplanes, with only 29 inches of pitch across the 129 seats. The remaining 60 seats, however, will range in pitch from 31 to 38 inches, and reserving one will cost at least $18.
Fares as low as $19 are being offered on all of the airline’s initial routes from April into mid-June for some destinations, except for flights around Memorial Day Weekend. They’re just introductory fares but low ticket prices are part of Avelo’s overall strategy to stimulate demand in underserved markets and become a go-to for cheap flights.
“Quite honestly, I’d love to be able to do, over many years, what Southwest has done,” Levy said. “Where when people hear ‘Avelo,’ they just associate us with low fares.”
Offering low fares, however, means that Avelo will have to fill its planes as close to the brim as possible in order to turn a profit. “We’re looking to sell the flights very full, we’re defining full as 80-85%,” Levy said.
And unlike competitors, Avelo doesn’t have a robust system of extra fees to fall back on. Advanced seat assignments start at $5 and checking a bag will only cost $10, with the latter meant to open more space in the cabin during boarding and deplaning. There’s also no fee to make a flight change or make a reservation over the phone.
These extra charges, known as ancillary fees, have become the backbone of ultra-low-cost airlines’ strategy as they don’t incur taxes.
Keeping calm during a crippling pandemic for airlines
“I think probably during the pandemic, maybe the hardest thing was just to keep everybody calm and to recognize that there’s a lot of good that’s going to come from the end of the business cycle,” Levy said.
The industry veteran was actually optimistic instead of pessimistic when the pandemic hit the US in March 2020. Leveling the playing field for airlines made it easier for a new entrant to compete with established players.
“I think all of our investors realize that this will have been a pretty strong opportunity for us to get into markets we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get into, take advantage of materially lower costs for things like airplanes, office leases, IT contracts, parts agreements, etc.,” Levy said.
Avelo currently has three planes and more than 200 crew members but plans to have six Boeing 737s and 400 crew members by the end of the year.
JetBlue is firmly on the road back to normal as the pandemic enters its second year.
Flights are being filled to capacity as the airline stopped blocking seats in January following the Christmas travel rush. Middle seats had been blocked until October 15, 2020, around the time Southwest Airlines also announced an end to its policy.
But it didn’t stop there, JetBlue has been gradually moving away from pandemic-era safety measures like back-to-front boarding and has brought back fan favorites like soft drinks and more snacks in the in-flight service.
After flying JetBlue during the summer at the height of its safety efforts, I decided to take JetBlue home from Los Angeles to New York in March on one of its flagship routes. Here’s what flying JetBlue Airways is like in 2021.
Los Angeles is JetBlue’s new West Coast hub, having moved operations from nearby Long Beach during the pandemic.
JetBlue doesn’t have an entire terminal to itself as it does in New York here at LAX but it makes the space work.
Check-in kiosks were spaced and JetBlue even installed social distancing reminders on the floor.
Hand sanitizer stations were available next to the bag drop station.
And even the regular check-in line had multiple social distancing and face mask reminders from both the airline and the airport, in addition to plexiglass partitions at check-in counters. It was the most impressive setup I’d seen in the terminal.
JetBlue, like many US airlines, now requires customers to acknowledge a health declaration at check-in. I had to affirm that I didn’t have any COVID-19 symptoms, been exposed to the virus, or tested positive for the virus.
I also had to agree to JetBlue’s face covering policy and affirm I didn’t have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater.
I used the kiosk to print my boarding pass and was reminded about the touch-free option by using the JetBlue mobile application to do everything from check-in to get a mobile boarding pass. Customers checking a bag could also just scan their boarding pass and the bag tag would automatically print without having to touch the screen.
I booked JetBlue’s version of basic economy for this flight but I was luckily still assigned a window seat. Most of the middle seats went empty on the flight and I was glad to see JetBlue wasn’t randomly assigned seats as some other airlines are for basic economy flyers.
Ticket in hand, I headed to the gate and saw some of the same safety features. Plexiglass partitions were installed at the check-in counter and the airport had installed social distancing placards on the floor but that was about it.
Boarding soon began in JetBlue’s standard procedure based on groups. There was surprisingly no pre-boarding reminder to wear masks
Passengers boarding first included JetBlue elite status holders, those traveling in Mint business class, active duty military, families with small children, customers with disabilities, and travelers with “Even More Space” seats.
JetBlue gave up on back-to-front boarding in early March.
I got to my seat, 25A, and settled in for the overnight flight to New York.
Everything about the seat was clean and I didn’t have any worry there whatsoever.
Health and safety aside, I was immediately reminded why flying on JetBlue is one of the best ways to cross the country, especially when flying on this aircraft.
The Airbus A321 fleet, including the A321 and A321neo, are incredibly modern and comfortable. I’d flown across the US on four different airlines in two days but when I sat down on the JetBlue flight, it felt like home.
These aircraft feature one of JetBlue’s older in-flight entertainment products but they still offer touch-screen capabilities, high-definition displays, on-demand content, and a map screen.
It also helped that the airline offers 32 inches of legroom in economy on this aircraft.
The front of the aircraft naturally filled first thanks to the new boarding procedure but the aircraft was empty enough where the back started to fill before too many people were settled up front.
Even though it was an empty flight to New York, flight attendants asked passengers to go to their assigned seats first before moving around the cabin.
Flight attendants also reminded passengers of the safety features of the aircraft including its high-efficiency particular air filters, or HEPA filters, and reassuringly said that the aircraft was just cleaned and disinfected.
It was also made clear that wearing a mask was required by federal law.
We departed Los Angeles with around three-quarters of the plane full.
I lucked out and had the middle seat open but not every row was so lucky.
After departure, the entertainment screens showed a video outlining the health and safety features of the aircraft to reassure passengers. Airlines tend to do this at the gate but I was glad to see it on the aircraft right in front of passengers.
The “dos and don’ts” of flying on JetBlue were explained including wearing a face covering…
And don’t crowd the aisle. This one was interesting considering JetBlue had just removed back-to-front boarding and its middle seat block.
Even more messaging was available on the map channel.
This kind of messaging goes a long way to reassure flyers returning to the skies for the first time during the pandemic.
We quickly departed Los Angeles and turned eastbound towards New York. The in-flight service began shortly after takeoff.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that JetBlue had gotten rid of the plastic bag service and was serving actual soft drinks. I even got the full can.
Customers also had a choice of snacks including cookies, chips, Cheez-Its, or a granola bar. I went for the cookies.
The rest of the flight progressed smoothly as most passengers tried to get some sleep in on the five-hour flight.
New York soon came into view and the flight was approaching its natural end.
When we landed, there was a reminder to social distance when deplaning but most didn’t heed that warning. It’s only natural for flyers to get up as soon as the seat belt sign turns off.
Walking off the plane, I noticed JetBlue had installed its own safety placards in the jetway.
The terminal in New York was also way better equipped than in Los Angeles. JetBlue had installed its own hand sanitizers at the gate…
Automated boarding gates were available to reduce contact with the gate agents…
And seats in the gate area were even blocked off, in addition to social distancing placards lining the falls and plexiglass partitions installed at the gate.
Overall, JetBlue did a great job at ensuring passengers are safe in both of its hubs, even though it is shedding off some social distancing efforts as more flyers take to the skies. The flight felt closer to a normal experience but there was still a strong emphasis on health and safety at every turn.
Easter weekend saw a record number of passengers take to the skies during the pandemic. A total of 1,580,785 travelers departed from US airports on April 2, according to the Transportation Security Administration, and the days following saw more than 1.3 million travelers each.
Pilots are grounded for 48 hours after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine per Federal Aviation Administration rules, as Insider reported in December, as the side effects can impact a pilot’s ability to safely operate an aircraft. Delta also houses a vaccination mega-site in Atlanta at the Delta Flight Museum.
Delta employees were also heavily affected by Bastian’s initial comments, industry analyst Henry Harteveldt told Insider in a recent interview, potentially demoralizing the workforce during its busiest weekend in over a year in terms of passenger numbers.
Alaska Airlines has been steadily expanding across the US in recent years since its acquisition of Virgin America, increasing its presence from coast to coast.
While its main sandbox is the West Coast, the airline now operates transcontinental flights from numerous East Coast cities. It’s not as big as the majors in the big four US airlines including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines, but Alaska has been getting its name out there in a big way.
Middle seats on Alaska flights were blocked until January 7, the second-longest seat-blocking tenure of a major US airline behind Delta. Now, flights can be filled nearly to capacity in economy.
Here’s what flying Alaska Airlines is like during the pandemic.
Alaska’s primary hub at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport was busier than I expected when I arrived for my Friday afternoon flight to Los Angeles. As the airport’s top carrier, many of those flyers would be flying Alaska.
The entire Alaska Airlines check-in, however, had been overhauled with new safety features like plexiglass partitions at the counters…
Social distancing placards in queues…
Hand sanitizer stations…
And wipe stations in between check-in kiosks. It was an impressive start to my trip on the airline.
And before I even got to the airport, I was required to acknowledge a health agreement. Standard for most major US airlines now, I had to affirm that I haven’t tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 10 days, hadn’t been exposed to the virus in the past 10 days, and hadn’t exhibited symptoms in the past three days, in addition to agreeing to the airline’s mask policy.
The flight appeared to be largely empty and it was looking good that I’d have a row to myself. Alaska flies near-hourly between Seattle and Los Angeles so there was no shortage of flights available, even during the pandemic.
I quickly got my ticket from the kiosk and headed to the gate. I hadn’t flown on Alaska since before the pandemic when I flew from New York to LA to get In-n-Out Burger, so I was excited to fly the airline once more.
The same set of social distancing measures that I found at check-in were also at the gate, including more plexiglass partitions, hand sanitizing stations, and floor placards.
The airport also had its own social distancing agenda, blocking every other seat in the gate area with placards.
But while I had hoped for an empty flight, it turned out that this afternoon flight to Los Angeles was very popular with airline employees and standby passengers. There were at least 25 people looking to jump on board this flight, potentially thwarting my chances of an empty row.
Boarding began around 30 minutes prior to departure with Alaska following its normal boarding procedure. Customers board with their assigned group, listed on their boarding passes.
After pre-boarding, first class boards first followed by Alaska elites and those seated in “premium class.” Regular economy passengers in the back of the plane then board followed by those closer to the front. Basic economy flyers, regardless of seat location, board dead last.
More social distancing placards lined the jetway leading up to the aircraft. “Mind your wingspan” is Alaska’s slogan of choice for social distancing.
Flight attendants welcomed us as we filed into the Boeing 737 Max but nothing in the way of hand sanitizer or sanitary wipes were offered, as some other airlines are doing.
Walking past first class, however, I noticed each seat was given hand sanitizing wipes, a perk that economy class didn’t get.
I later saw on the airline’s website that they were available “on request.”
The cleaning measures truly showed. I had no concerns whatsoever about the cleanliness of the plane.
I chose seat 28F for the two-hour flight to Los Angeles, a window seat on the right side of the plane facing forward.
Everything from the seat area to the tray tables was spotless.
Alaska even had some of its new safety protocols listed in this booklet with a website link where flyers could view the full spread of measures being taken by the airline to keep passengers safe.
This flight would feature an in-flight drink and snack service with nine different hot and cold beverages on offer ranging from Coke to orange juice.
The rest of the plane slowly filled up and Alaska’s boarding procedure meant the front filled out before the back. Those boarding last would have to walk through an entire plane full of people if they were seated in the back.
Flight attendants during the boarding process continually reminded passengers that they were “obligated” to wear a face mask.
One flight attendant was also walking around with masks to give to flyers that needed.
Even the safety briefing included a reminder that wearing a mask while flying is now federal law. Passengers were asked to report any offenses to flight attendants.
The flight departed with quite a few middle seats open. Alaska doesn’t currently block middle seats in regular economy as of January 7 so having any seats open was pure luck.
Flight attendants also worked to space passengers by moving them into empty rows. The aisle seat in my row, for example, was given to a passenger that was in a crowded row.
Soon enough, we were airborne and bound for Los Angeles.
Flight attendants quickly began the in-flight service, starting with snacks.
The bag included a variety of items from pretzels to flaxseed chips.
Then the drink cart came around and gloved flight attendants distributed full beverage cans accompanied by a cup of ice and hand sanitizing wipes. Printed on the napkin was a message asking flyers to put their masks on between bites and sips.
Once the service was over, I took a walk around the plane and only found a few passengers flouting the mask rule. Compliance, for the most part, was good.
Alaska also isn’t afraid to ban passengers for not wearing a mask. Almost 450 flyers have been banned as of March 17.
The summer of vaccinated travel now includes Iceland as a potential destination for Americans.
Starting April 6, vaccinated travelers from the US will be allowed into Iceland with just their paper vaccination certificate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the first European country to open its doors to Americans with no testing or quarantine required for visitors upon arrival, creating a potential boom for tourism and the country’s national airline.
Icelandair is already ramping up its US network by resuming regular service to five American cities in May, in addition to its current service to Boston. New York, Seattle, Chicago, Denver, and Washington, D.C. are slated to be the first to receive the non-stop flights again after a nearly year-long pause for many.
Birna Osk Einarsdottir, Icelandair’s chief commercial officer, is “optimistic,” that the airline will return to its full slate of planned US destinations for 2021 in June, just in time for the summer travel season. Service to Portland, Oregon has already been scheduled for July 1, and flights to destinations including Orlando, Florida are planned for the summer.
“The plan is, of course, to return to full strength as soon as possible in the US, our largest market, but realistically, it might take 2-3 years for the route network to be back to 2019 size,” Einarsdottir told Insider.
Pent-up demand also isn’t driving up Icelandair’s prices too high as the country reopens. A new fare sale is promising round-trip prices as low as $349 in a bid to quickly drum up tourism. The airline is also waiving change fees to give flyers greater flexibility when traveling.
Iceland doesn’t currently require a “vaccine passport” for travel and travelers can enter with just their paper vaccination certificates. But some of Icelandair’s destination countries, including those in the EU, have expressed a desire to implement the standardized protocol and the airline is ready to begin accepting them.
“It would be extremely good for travel to restart if we could join forces in that and find a common mechanism for this,” Einarsdottir said.
The word is out about Iceland and its flag carrier isn’t the only airline trying to get tourists to visit the Land of Fire and Ice. Delta Air Lines is similarly restarting Iceland services on the heels of the country’s reopening. Existing routes to Reykjavik from New York and Minneapolis are scheduled to resume in May, along with a new route from Boston.
But while vaccinated American visitors can visit with ease, Iceland won’t be the stepping stone to mainland Europe as it once was. American citizens without residency or citizenship in a Schengen Area country won’t be allowed to travel further into Europe than Iceland, at least until the US and European Union ease their mutual travel restrictions
“Until then – welcome to Iceland!” Einarsdottir said.
Georgia quickly found itself in the crosshairs of then-President Donald Trump in the aftermath of the 2020 election. Joe Biden narrowly won the state and its 16 electoral votes, helping bolster his progressive mandate, but Trump did not let the state go to Biden without a fight.
Delta Air Lines, as Atlanta’s hometown airline and one of the largest companies in the state, took an interest in the bill and said it worked with the government to bar its “most egregious measures.” After its passage, Delta CEO Ed Bastian commented favorably on aspects of the legislation and lauded the efforts of Atlanta’s business community in shaping its outcome.
“The legislation signed this week improved considerably during the legislative process, and expands weekend voting, codifies Sunday voting and protects a voter’s ability to cast an absentee ballot without providing a reason,” Bastian said in a March 26 memo.
Delta’s response immediately sparked controversy as the airline was seen as supportive of the bill that included what opponents call voter suppression methods. Among others, the law requires a voter to present identification to vote absentee and the window for requesting an absentee ballot is shortened, as Insider’s Grace Panetta reported.
Bastian’s statement stunned industry observers that had been closely following Delta’s great strides in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion over the years.
“Even before the George Floyd incident, Delta had been talking about the need to hire, mentor, provide professional development opportunities, and promote women and people of color and other groups who were underrepresented in Delta’s leadership,” Henry Harteveldt, travel industry analyst and co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group, told Insider.
Bastian, in response to the backlash, took a stronger position against the bill in a Wednesday memo.
“However, I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” Bastian clarified.
“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie: that there was widespread voter fraud in Georgia in the 2020 elections,” Bastian said. “This is simply not true.”
But by the time the Delta chief changed course, the hashtag #BoycottDelta had already gone viral on Twitter with more than 38,000 tweets mentioning the call to action, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Kemp also pushed back on Delta’s statement, saying: “Today’s statement by Delta CEO Ed Bastian stands in stark contrast to our conversations with the company, ignores the content of the new law, and unfortunately continues to spread the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.”
Inside Delta’s turbulent public relations week
Richard Levick, chairman and CEO of crisis management firm Levick, told Insider that the roots of Delta’s poor handling of the issue can trace back to the US Capitol Building riots and the George Floyd protests last year.
“[Delta] clearly missed, surprisingly, the import of what happened January 6 and thereafter in terms of companies pausing their [political action committees],” Levick said. “And they didn’t see the permanency of some of that.”
Levick likened the airline’s first statement to “sharpening the blade on the guillotine and saying, ‘look how much better we’ve made it.'”
Veteran communicators told Insider that Wednesday’s follow-up statement that unequivocally denounced the bill was the right move but Levick said the company should have been on the offensive early on, either by condemning the bill in its first statement or taken itself out of the bill’s formation.
Shying away from the spotlight also wasn’t really an option as Levick said that companies have to realize that we’re in a new era where they’re expected to take action in defense of important American institutions.
“They’re not going to have to take a position on everything political, they are going to have to realize that issues regarding race, access, democracy are things where there’s an expectation of their involvement or at least not their involvement on the wrong side,” Levick said.
“There is no longer brand neutrality on voter suppression,” according to Levick.
Delta is also too influential of an employer in Georgia not to get involved in landmark legislation in the state, even if the subject is outside of its primary purview of connecting the world through travel.
“The challenge with being a leader in any industry is that you’re a leader and so, you’re expected to be involved in things that a lot of other companies aren’t involved in,” John McDonald, a former American Airlines vice president for corporate communications and public affairs, told Insider. “You’re expected to make influential decision-making on subjects that aren’t necessarily core to your business.”
Levick says Delta should have let Bastian’s condemnation of the bill shine instead of bogging down the media with additional stories unless the airline had a genuine business reason for announcing its new policies when it did. March 31 was the end of 2021’s first fiscal quarter and it might just have been bad timing, McDonald said.
Delta now risks losing the goodwill that it has built up over the years stemming from its innovations in the industry and keen focus on social issues.
Staring down a potential boycott from its most influential customers
Individuals promising to boycott Delta won’t impact the airline’s operations too greatly. Consumers have reliably shown that they will book the cheapest and most convenient travel option, and Delta will often meet those criteria for many Georgians.
But if the business community turns it back on Delta, that could deal a serious blow to the airline’s bottom line. “Only when you get corporate accounts or large volume accounts that represent millions of dollars or more in business to an airline would any kind of a boycott really be meaningful,” Harteveldt said.
Dozens of Black executives have already spoken out against Georgia-based companies like Delta for not doing more to oppose the law, and a full boycott of the airline’s services could damage the airline. Corporate accounts are incredibly lucrative as firms spend top dollar when booking flights on everything from costly last-minute tickets to premium cabin seats for executives.
Bastian’s initial comments also impacted Delta employees.
“I think that Delta’s employees of color feel very let down by this,” Harteveldt said. “Over the weekend, I heard a lot from a lot of Delta employees, frontline workers, management, many workers who felt that the airline betrayed the values that it holds so dear.”
And it’s exactly those workers that Delta should have considered when issuing the first statement.
“I have to think that Delta looked at this largely through a public affairs lens and not through that broader, diverse, fully integrated lens that brought in other internal audience members and [asked], ‘how do you see this?'” Levick said.
McDonald noted, however, that these types of statements are often the result of discussions with politicians. All sides likely wanted to come out of this looking good and likely coordinated on what to say and how to say it.
But the public break between Delta and the state government has already yielded repercussions. Georgia’s House of Representatives on Wednesday night voted to repeal a tax on jet fuel that greatly benefits Delta, which has its largest hub at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
If passed by the Georgia Senate and signed into law by Kemp, Delta will be forced to pay more in fuel costs in the state, a costly expense that would come as the airline attempts a financial recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
A cautionary tale for airlines
As more states take on the issue of voter rights in their legislatures, major companies will have to take note and Delta won’t be the last airline forced to take a side on this issue. American Airlines took a stand on similar legislation passed in Texas on Thursday, boldly proclaiming: “To make American’s stance clear: We are strongly opposed to this bill and others like it.”
As for Delta’s next move, Levick suggested the airline should do nothing more and hold firm in its condemnation.
“Don’t just do something, stand there,” Levick said.