Industry Grapples With Inflight Social Distancing
The extent to which blocking middle seats on airplanes protects passengers from Covid-19 is debatable. What's clear is that reducing passenger counts by about one-third would apply upward pressure on airfares. Some airlines said they were not selling middle seats while others announced efforts to cap passenger counts per flight. A congressional leader urged all airlines to ensure inflight social distancing.
"Who among the CEOs of [U.S. airlines] would want a member of their own family to be assigned to a middle seat between two potentially contagious passengers in the middle of a global pandemic?" wrote Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, in a letter to air carrier trade group Airlines For America. "I would respectfully urge A4A members to ensure that their reservation systems leave at least one seat-width of spacing between passengers and to dynamically adjust fares as needed to account for the effect on load factors."
DeFazio's letter followed a controversy surrounding a widely shared photo of a packed United Airlines flight. Facing backlash, United announced a policy allowing passengers to change plans when the airline expects a flight to be full. "Because our schedule is so reduced (we're only operating a single flight a day in some destinations), there are a small number of flights where our customers are finding planes fuller than they expect," according to the airline. As a result, through June 30, United will "do our best" to contact customers about 24 hours in advance of departure and offer a rebooking option or flight credit.
Leaving middle seats open would present logistical challenges onboard, especially for airlines with open seating policies, like Southwest Airlines.
It also would require some changes to travel management processes. For example, when suppliers change how they sell products, it can pose issues for online booking tools. Some OBTs had problems accommodating seat selection at the time of booking even before the pandemic.
According to the International Air Transport Association, "Evidence suggests that the risk of transmission onboard aircraft is low. And we will take measures —such as the wearing of face coverings by passengers and masks by crew — to add extra layers of protection. We must arrive at a solution that gives passengers the confidence to fly and keeps the cost of flying affordable. One without the other will have no lasting benefit."
Global distribution systems will enable airlines to waive change fees by overriding fare rules, according to American Airlines. The carrier said it worked with ATPCO to develop an "emergency flexibility" feature that's available across the industry. According to AA, this will ease the burden on travel management companies that otherwise needed to review individual ticket changes manually. Amadeus, Sabre and Travelport will incorporate the enhancement by June 7, according to AA.
Ovation Travel Group will provide safety kits to client travelers. They'll include a face mask, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, tissues and a thermometer.
Tripbam added new analytics in response to Covid-19. One feature lets users quickly identify travelers booked at hotels that are closed. Another provides filtering for hotel cancellations and calculates the value of same-day check-in "based on how far in advance trips are being canceled and the cost." Tripbam also enhanced rate type performance analyses to account for increased market volatility and added flexibility for defining market-specific rate caps and targets.
World Travel Inc. introduced an information service to help clients manage risks and disruption. WorldWatch brings in data from numerous sources to map Covid-19 hotspots, security alerts, flight delays and other advisories. Integration with Traxo brings in off-channel bookings for monitoring. The system notifies users of impacted itineraries and helps managers contact travelers.
Hertz president and CEO Kathryn Marinello resigned as the company seeks emergency funding. In late April, the car rental firm missed a payment related to a fleet operating lease before negotiating a few weeks of wiggle room with lenders and debt holders. The window to work out a financing strategy expires May 22. Previously an EVP and chief retail operations officer for Hertz North America, Paul Stone succeeded Marinello and also joined the company's board.
Amadeus added Covid-19 info from Riskline to its risk management solution. Corporations using Amadeus Mobile Messenger can monitor in real-time alerts, conditions and responses from authorities in specific countries, including border closures and other restrictions.
Delta restarted Atlanta-Frankfurt and Detroit-London Heathrow service with "less than daily" schedules. The carrier's second-quarter capacity is down 85 percent year over year. It will retire its Boeing 777 fleet by year-end and its MD-90 aircraft next month.
Travel Leaders Group combined its Travel Leaders Corporate and Altour brands. The announcement of a unified entity using the Altour name followed two years of integration work, according to Travel Leaders Group. Altour will have 2,000 employees in 57 locations, led by founder and CEO Alexandre Chemla. Previously president of Travel Leaders Corporate, Gabe Rizzi was named Altour's chief revenue officer. According to Business Travel News, Travel Leaders Group also will combine its Protravel and Tzell brands.
Industry icon Dave Hilfman joined Direct Travel's board of directors. The longtime Continental and then United Airlines sales leader retired in 2018.
Compiled by the editors of TheCompanyDime.com