What’s next for airlines now that Joe Biden is president-elect of the US

Nov 7, 2020

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Joe Biden is president-elect of the U.S. four days after Americans went to the polls to elect their new president.

Biden’s election comes amid the coronavirus pandemic that has laid the travel industry bare. U.S. airlines have involuntarily furloughed tens-of-thousands of staff as they continue to hemorrhage millions of dollars a day. Hotels across the country have closed their doors and those that are open — or reopened — have changed their service to keep customers and employees alike safe from the virus.

Biden will face these and other stark economic realities when he takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, 2021. Not to mention how to keep the virus at bay and return life in America to “normal.”

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For airlines, top of mind is extending the payroll support under the federal coronavirus aid package, or CARES Act, that expired Sept. 30. The more than $25 billion in relief would allow the country’s carriers to bring back furloughed staff and, according to them, resume flying faster once COVID is under control.

A payroll support extension for airlines has bipartisan support, something that will be needed if the Republicans retain control of the Senate. A bill did not pass before the election primarily over differences in the size of a total relief package between Congressional Democrats and Republicans.

“We expect the next phase four stimulus package to be smaller than previously discussed,” wrote Cowen analyst Helane Becker sharing the consensus view that Biden had won the presidency on Nov. 6. “It is currently impossible to know what to expect in the next stimulus deal BUT there was significant bipartisan support for additional airline aid.”

Related: How this election will change the travel industry

Additional aid to get their staff through the crisis is not the only challenge facing airlines. The new administration will also need to establish procedures to reopen international travel without spreading the virus and develop a plan to distribute a vaccine when it becomes available.

“The right combination of technologies and behaviors already exists to allow the restart of travel without compromising health and safety, and making rapid and reliable testing more widely available will be a key element of an even broader economic reopening,” U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement congratulating president-elect Biden on Saturday.

The new Biden administration is also expected to implement a mandatory mask requirement for everyone riding on public transportation, including on commercial passenger flights.

Related: Which US airlines are block middle seats and require masks?

Other issues Biden has said he will address include the country’s aging infrastructure. Even with the historic drop in flyer numbers, airports continue to need updates to everything from their terminal buildings to runways. Trade group the Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) continues to push for higher passenger facility charges to fund such improvements.

“We look forward to working with the president-elect and his administration on a range of aviation issues, including his promised infrastructure investment package,” ACI-NA president and CEO Kevin Burke said in a statement Saturday. “The entire travel industry is still suffering from the abrupt, sustained drop in tourism and business travel, and airports need help to get through this prolonged downturn.”

Biden has also promised to invest in a national passenger railroad network. This is understood to include additional support for Amtrak but, based on the corridors outlined during the campaign, would also likely mean more capital funds for privately run lines like Brightline in California and Florida.

A spokesperson for airline trade group Airlines for America (A4A) was not immediately available for comment.

Related: Southwest Airlines warns staff of first layoffs in carrier’s history

Featured image by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

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