October 28, 2021

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Travel slump worsens as airlines try to blame media

That’s a message that at least two lawmakers — among the nation’s most frequent flyers — heard loud and clear.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the committee that oversees aviation, said she didn’t fly home to Washington state last weekend and doesn’t plan to in the foreseeable future.

“I have an 88-year-old mom who’s living at my house [in Washington] and she’s been ill, and I want to give her the comfort of being there. When you have elderly people you want to make sure you’re not putting them at additional risk,” she said. “And look, do I think that there can be airline travel that is safe? Yes. But if you don’t have to…”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), 85, noted that the doctor said “stay off of those planes as much as we can.”

“If any of you is going to Alabama Thursday night, can I get a ride?” Shelby quipped to reporters gathered around him Tuesday. “I’ll ride in the back of the truck.”

Also Tuesday, a coalition of mostly travel interests spearheaded by the U.S. Travel Association made a similar plea, noting that canceling travel and events “has a trickle-down effect that threatens to harm the U.S. economy, from locally owned hotels, restaurants, travel advisors and tour operators to the service and frontline employees who make up the backbone of the travel industry and the American economy.”

The groups’ plea comes amid fresh warnings and widespread fear around the disease, along with new figures suggesting a worsening financial situation for the airline industry.

Yesterday, the credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded the industry’s outlook from stable to negative, warning that there is an “increasing risk to demand for passenger air travel as the coronavirus expands globally.”

And today, the Global Business Travel Association reported that business travel is “slowing at an alarming rate,” finding that 13 percent of its members have canceled even domestic travel, along with high rates of canceled international business travel.

“Those are the customers that are the most profitable for airlines,” said airline analyst Henry Harteveldt.

Though airlines have yet to publicly ask for assistance from the government, the potential for some kind of stimulus has been a topic of discussion on and off Capitol Hill for days, and President Donald Trump has indicated that he favors some assistance for airlines and the cruise industry.

On Tuesday, Trump, along with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, met with Senate Republicans at their weekly lunch to discuss potential stimulus ideas on a range of topics.

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