A proposed bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill, which would provide USD$17 billion in support for the beleaguered aviation sector, offers hope to US travelers planning vacations in 2021.
While the passage of the bill into law is not yet certain, the news provides a timely boost to US airlines, which have been placed under significant financial pressure due to a huge drop in passenger numbers since the pandemic. With federal assistance, airlines are much more likely to survive the next few months intact and be in a stronger position to offer full flight schedules to US travelers when normal service resumes.
Bipartisan Bill To Provide Much-Needed Support
A group of US senators including both Republicans and Democrats has devised a USD$908 billion COVID-19 federal assistance plan which they expect to receive widespread bipartisan support in Congress. The proposed bill represents the latest attempt to break a long political deadlock on measures to provide much-needed assistance for key sectors of the economy, including airlines which have been hit particularly hard by the travel restrictions introduced to control the pandemic.
Although the bill has not yet received support from the White House or President-Elect Joe Biden, it has received backing from senators across the aisle including Republicans Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski and Democrat Mark Warner. This has boosted the chances of it passing into law, and providing USD$17 billion for four months of payroll assistance needed to keep airlines functioning during the pandemic.
While no major US airlines have been forced out of business by the pandemic, all have been badly hit by the large reduction in air traffic, with passenger numbers down by around 60% since March. At least two regional airlines, Trans States Airlines and Compass Airlines, have declared bankruptcy, but others have been forced to tap financial markets and federal loans in order to stay afloat.
With losses mounting American Airlines and United Airlines were forced to furlough 32,000 workers in October after a previous federal payroll assistance program expired, highlighting the need for Congress to pass the new bill offering further support for the aviation industry.
Unless more federal assistance is provided, travelers could face more restricted options in terms of flights and reduced quality and availability of services. For example, if the airlines are forced to permanently shed workers this would restrict their operating capacity and make it more difficult to ramp up flight offerings once demand begins to increase again.
US Travelers Looking Forward To 2021
The proposed support for airlines means that US travelers can begin to look forward to vacations next year as the pandemic gets under control and travel returns to normal. Airlines have already been urging passengers to return to flying by highlighting their safety credentials and pioneering COVID-19 testing and quarantine-free international travel corridors.
While the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) continues to advise against non-essential travel at present, the rolling out of pre-flight COVID-19 testing programs, as well as potentially successful vaccination against the virus, offers hope that Americans will be able to return to pre-pandemic travel practices in the new year.
Americans can expect major airlines to continue offering a full flight schedule in 2021, allowing them to travel across the country and internationally. Southwest Airlines, based in Dallas Texas, has already announced an expanded flight program starting March 11 including new domestic services to Sarasota, Savannah and Honolulu as well as reinstating international flights to Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.
Meanwhile American sun-seekers will welcome the news that United Airlines has expanded its services to Central America from December, including new nonstop flights between Los Angeles and San Jose, Costa Rica and San Pedro Sula, Honduras; between Denver and Belize City; between Washington D.C. and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and between Liberia, Costa Rica and Los Angeles and San Francisco.
With airlines desperate to welcome back passengers and a combination of federal assistance and COVID-19 health screenings supporting a safe return to travel, American travelers can begin put the difficulties of 2020 behind them and look forward to vacationing again in the new year.
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