Biden versus Trump: How this election will change the travel industry
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published Oct. 16, and has been updated with new information.
In case you haven’t heard, the U.S. presidential election is tomorrow, and travel is a very real campaign issue.
Let’s take a closer look at the travel policies of both presidential candidates.
Many of President Donald Trump’s views on travel and borders are likely familiar to you. They’ve become part of the news cycle throughout his presidency. Some of the most high-profile policies are temporary measures put in place by the Trump White House due to the coronavirus pandemic, and they especially impact international travel.
Here’s a comparison of what a Joe Biden White House would look like versus a second Donald Trump term.
TPG reached out to both the Biden and the Trump camps with a list of questions but did not hear back from either campaign.
Support for the travel industry
CBS News Transportation Correspondent Kris van Cleave told TPG that, “Regardless of who wins in November, the travel sector seems likely to have a supporter in the White House, it is too vital to the overall economy to be left to perpetually wither.”
Fin Gomez echoed that sentiment. He is a White House producer for CBS News. He said it was hard to forecast a travel rebound because of the lack of visibility into when a vaccine might be available, but he also said each side knows how important travel is to the overall economy. Gomez said, “Both campaigns are aware of this massively important industry. As we can tell from the White House’s renewed interest in (a possible 2nd) bailout. People like to travel. Regardless of who wins, both know it’s good for business.”
Kris van Cleave points out that President Trump is a big supporter of the travel industry as a whole:
“A President Trump win would likely continue the status quo which includes the President’s shoot from the hip style which brings with it some uncertainty and unpredictability. That said Mr. Trump has remained sympathetic to the plight of the travel industry as it is one of the few singled out specifically as need(ing) additional aid. It is also a sector he that is near and dear to him given his business holdings.”
Another airline bailout?
Both President Trump and former Vice President Biden have expressed support for a new, second bailout for the travel industry. Some 40,000 airline workers began to get furloughed beginning Oct. 1, 2020, as the $25 billion from the CARES Act ran out.
Democrats in Congress passed a second bailout back in May that included money for the airlines (the HEROES Act), but it was never passed by the Senate. A second HEROES Act was under consideration, but without Senate cooperation, it, too, is probably doomed. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wouldn’t consider a bailout during the lame-duck session of Congress either.
The Trump administration has pushed a so-called “skinny” bailout that would provide direct relief to the airlines.
According to Politico, White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah told reporters, “We’ve made very clear we want a skinny package. We’re for direct payments, we’re for extension of PPP, and we’d like to see an airline bailout, but not part of a larger package.”
So far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ruled that out. She wants a bigger relief bill.
A Biden administration would likely fast-track another major relief package that could include a second bailout for the airline industry.
Gio Benitez is ABC’s News Transportation Correspondent. He told TPG, “In late January, President Trump restricted some travelers who had visited China from entering the U.S. (American citizens, green card holders, their families, and health care workers were exempt). Vice President Biden hasn’t specifically said what he would’ve done, but his campaign has said he supports travel bans guided by medical experts and public health officials.”
Biden’s deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield told CNN in April that Biden supported some bans on foreign visitors. “Joe Biden supports travel bans that are guided by medical experts, advocated by public health officials, and backed by a full strategy,” but it’s unclear if the bans currently in place would be kept in place under a Biden administration.
We are trying to get both campaigns to explain their views on continued bans on international visitors, but have so far been unsuccessful.
New safety protocols
Tim Jue is a San Francisco-based reporter covering airlines and travel. He said, “Under a Biden administration, I expect the federal government to finally jump in and mandate a lot of the safety protocols we already see when traveling like mandatory masks on planes, trains, and buses. So far, it’s been a hodge-podge of rules devised by individual airlines, airports, train operators, and bus companies. The enforcement is inconsistent, and I expect a Biden Department of Transportation to step in with a sweeping set of guidelines for all U.S. operators.”
The Trump Administration has rejected nationwide mandates of any kind on masks or other safety measures.
Masks on planes and in airports
The Trump administration has resisted calls for requiring masks on all flights and at airports instead leaving it to individual airlines and airports, resulting in a piecemeal approach to rules and enforcement. In fact, The New York Times reports the Trump White House blocked a CDC plan to require masks. The Department of Transportation has rejected calls multiple times to require masks on commercial transportation. Politico reports Joe Biden pledged to make masks on all public transportation a requirement if he wins.
National tracking and tracing program
The Trump administration has largely left coronavirus policy to individual states. That would be a huge shift under a Biden administration which has plans for a nationally coordinated strategy to tackle COVID-19.
Related: CDC cancels required quarantine
A Biden presidency would see major changes in coronavirus policy. The most dramatic change would likely be a national tracking and tracing program which the Trump administration has not done. Biden wants to hire 100,000 Americans to do national contact tracing. The Biden campaign has also pushed for some $25 billion for national testing. The Biden campaign website says they would begin by:
“Amending the Public Health Service Act to immediately cover all testing, treatment, and preventive services that are necessary to address a Public Health Emergency for an infectious disease. Once triggered by the HHS Secretary in consultation with the CDC, all commercial plans in all markets will be immediately required to cover such services as COVID-19 testing and any eventual vaccine with no copayments and deductibles, including for the visits themselves.”
According to the Biden campaign website, he would also roll out a national testing program including investing in new technologies and rapid tests.
Biden also wants to “invest $25 billion in a vaccine manufacturing and distribution plan that will guarantee it gets to every American, cost-free.”
Air bridges/ Travel bubbles
The Wall Street Journal reports the Trump administration is pushing for a so-called ‘air bridge’ between New York and London. Politico reports testing would be required including two pre-departure tests for travel. Look for more of these types of arrangements under a Biden administration as well.
Related: What is a travel bubble?
Another big difference is the frequency of foreign trips. Fin Gomez from CBS told me that President Trump is, “not a big traveler abroad. Even when he was campaigning in 2016, he liked to go back to his own bed (after an event). Biden will be traveling abroad a lot more.”
Control of COVID-19
Many of the analysts TPG spoke to said the best hope for a rebound in travel and tourism is getting the coronavirus under control.
Naveed Jamali is a national security expert and author of “How to Catch a Russian Spy.” He told TPG:
“I haven’t been on a plane for 6 months. Trips for work and pleasure for many Americans have been not only curtailed but indefinitely suspended. So what’s the solution? Bringing the virus under control, period. Until that happens Americans will not likely resume air travel. So the question about saving the airline industry must look at which candidate will be the most effective in controlling the spread of the virus and overseeing its decline. It’s hard to see anyway in which Trump has handled this pandemic effectively or competently, so Biden is the best hope for airline industry, country, and the world.”
Richard Fowler is a Fox News contributor and political analyst. “The (travel) industry is hurting. The only way we’re going to get to some type of recovery in the pandemic is by getting this virus under control or flattening the curve. If you look at both candidates and their plans or lack thereof. There’s only one candidate who is taking this pandemic seriously, and has been a follower of CDC guidelines — former VP Joe Biden.”
CBS’s van Cleave brings up another important point when it comes to travel policy, “There’s also the question of who controls Congress? A divided Congress has failed for months to reach an agreement on Covid Relief funding—including additional aid to the travel sector. That legislative molasses seems likely to continue should different parties control the House and Senate.”
He suggests Democrats in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House could mean a boon for transportation spending:
“In a scenario where Biden wins and you see a blue wave that takes the senate and maintains the house majority, industry analysts I’ve spoken with see very significant stimulus and infrastructure spending as likely. As aid to the airlines, in particular, has bipartisan support it seems likely in a big stimulus they would not be forgotten.”
Van Cleave of CBS said, “A Biden Administration is more likely to be pro-union/labor which could slow any post-COVID consolidation of carriers. We’d also likely see a move away from the aggressive deregulation efforts we’ve seen over the last four years — something like a mask mandate for air travel/Amtrak travel would not be surprising, for example.”
The Points Guy Cruise Reporter Gene Sloan said the most immediate impact to the cruise industry could be on the restart date for cruising in North America. Indeed as Sloan reported on Oct. 30 that the CDC was lifting a no-sail order for cruise ships. Sloan said:
“The agency reportedly had wanted to extend that order into February but was overruled by top Trump administration officials. It seems clear that the Trump administration wants to see cruise ships return to sailing in North America soon, perhaps as soon as December (most cruise lines already have canceled all North American sailings for November, so December is now the earliest we could see cruising in North America in a meaningful way). If Trump wins the election, my money is on.. cruising resuming at least in a limited way in December. If Biden wins, we could see more deference to the scientists at the CDC, who have seemed leery of allowing cruising to resume.”
President Trump is not known as a big fan of long-distance passenger train service. That contrasts sharply with Biden who is famous for his Amtrak commuting and his love of passenger rail.
Related: Guide to Amtrak
Back in February, the president proposed cutting the budget for Amtrak in half for 2021. That budget proposal included a 13% cut to trains, airports, ports and other infrastructure spending overall. Congress has mostly rejected Trump White House calls for cuts to long-distance train travel during the Trump presidency. The president has also sparred with big-city mayors asking for federal funds for big train projects. New York has been asking for major federal funding towards efforts to shore up the busy Northeast corridor and make improvements to tracks and stations.
President Trump has instead suggested money would be better spent on short, intercity routes like the one connecting West Palm Beach to Miami.
Related: New train route to Orlando
A Biden White House would likely push through long-stalled infrastructure projects and fund projects already underway. As you can see from the Tweet above the Biden team is enthusiastic about trains (to say the least) with the campaign saying they want “to spark the second great rail revolution.”
CBS’s van Cleave told me, “There is also a sense a Biden Administration, even with a divided Congress, would bring some stability and rules-based predictability to governing as well as to relations with China. Better relations with China could be a win for American businesses and thus spur lucrative business travel.”
Indeed, a second Trump term might see a continued deterioration in relations with China. Joe Biden has called President Trump’s China policies “erratic,” and has criticized trade sanctions and tariffs from the Trump White House.
Still, Joe Biden might also be more confrontational over China’s policies towards Hong Kong, Taiwan and on human rights violations against the Uighurs in Xinjiang Province.
One of the biggest policy differences is likely to be over Cuba. President Trump erased former President Barack Obama’s policies when it comes to Americans visiting Cuba. In fact, in June of 2019, the Trump administration made it almost impossible for Americans to visit when it banned visiting via cruise ships, private yachts or on group educational or cultural trips. This year, new sanctions were imposed on Cuba.
Related: U.S. bans most flights to Cuba
A Biden administration would likely mean a return to Obama-era Cuba policies including allowing U.S. investment and a return of air traffic and American tourism. Terry Ward is a freelance travel writer based in Florida. She told me, “My husband is Cuban and we usually try to get back twice a year to visit his family there. We generally feel a Biden presidency has the most promise of improving relations with the island and easing travel restrictions.”
TPG’s cruise reporter Gene Sloan agreed that a Biden White House might mean a return to cruising to Cuba:
“The Obama Administration had loosened regulations surrounding travel to Cuba such that cruise lines were able to restart sailings from Florida to Cuba in 2016 (after decades of not being able to operate such voyages). But in June 2019, the Trump Administration abruptly shut down cruising from the U.S. to Cuba. Nobody in the industry as far as I know is talking about this now, but I would think there’s a possibility that a Biden Administration would resume the loosening of Cuba travel restrictions that the Obama Administration began, resulting in cruising to Cuba restarting.”
What’s next for the Airline industry no matter who wins?
CBS’s van Cleave said, “As an industry, it continues struggling until there are widely available vaccines and therapeutics allowing people and businesses to feel comfortable traveling again. The biggest hurdles for the industry are apolitical — when will a viable vaccine be widely available and how does its distribution go?”
Darrell West is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Tech Innovation at the Brooking Institute. He told me, “Trump will keep the economy open as he doesn’t want to hurt it. Biden will allow people to travel but call for a national mandate on wearing masks in public. He will support airlines and hotels and try to keep them solvent.”
No matter who you support, the travel industry is likely to benefit.
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