Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Tourism

U.S.’s National Travel and Tourism Office Names Deputy Assistant Secretary

5 months ago

Alex Lasry has been sworn in as the new deputy assistant secretary for travel and tourism at the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Lasry oversees the National Travel and Tourism Office, in the International Trade Administration’s industry and analysis division in the Commerce Department.

Lasry has begun to help lead the Biden-Harris Administration’s national travel and tourism strategy. The goals are to improve the competitiveness of the U.S. in attracting its fair share of inbound visitors and sustaining the country’s spot as a popular destination for foreign visitors. A key objective is to attract 90 million international visitors a year by 2027.

Previously, Lasry was senior vice president of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team. He also led Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s successful bid to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

Tourism

China and U.S. to Improve Tourism Ties, Says Chinese President Xi

6 months ago

The U.S. and China will improve air connectivity and streamline visa processing, said Chinese President Xi Jinping in public remarks on Wednesday. Xi made the remarks at a dinner hosted by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations and US-China Business Council. 

The dinner followed Xi’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in San Francisco. 

“Today, President Biden and I reached an important consensus,” said Xi. “Our two countries will roll out more measures to facilitate travels and promote people-to-people exchanges, including increasing direct passenger flights, holding a high-level dialogue on tourism, and streamlining visa application procedures.”

Long visa wait times and weak air connectivity prevented the full resumption of Chinese tourism to the U.S. Without Chinese tourism, the U.S. can’t fully recover from the pandemic, Brand USA CEO and President Chris Thompson has said.

Before the pandemic, Chinese tourists were the U.S.’s highest spenders. “Before the pandemic, 2.6 million visitors a year spent about $15 billion. There wasn’t another market anywhere close,” said U.S. Travel Association CEO and President Geoff Freeman at the Skift Global Forum. “This is a market that in many senses will make or break what we do on the international side.”

Airlines

U.S. Senate Confirms New FAA Administrator Michael Whitaker

7 months ago

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed former United Airlines executive Michael Whitaker as the next administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Whitaker, who most recently was chief operating officer of Hyundai-owned urban air mobility startup Supernal, was confirmed with unanimous bipartisan support late on Tuesday. He is the first confirmed FAA administrator since former administrator Steve Dickson stepped down in March 2022.

“Whitaker is the right person at the right time to lead the FAA into the next generation of aviation,” American Airlines said in a statement. “His sterling qualifications in the industry and robust experience as a former FAA Deputy Administrator will be invaluable as the FAA modernizes our nation’s aviation system and maintains the highest levels of safety across the industry.”

The question of qualifications derailed the confirmation of President Biden’s first nominee to lead the aviation regulator, Denver airport chief Phil Washington. Washington, who was an advisor to Biden in the 2020 presidential campaign, was known as an effective leader of transit agencies in both Denver and Los Angeles. Senators, however, questioned Washington’s aviation know how and delayed his confirmation, which eventually led to him withdrawing from consideration in March.

Whitaker, in comparison, has experience at United, as a deputy administrator of the FAA, and in the emerging urban air mobility segment.

“Mike will take the reins at a pivotal time for the FAA,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said. “The national airspace is busier and more complex than ever and the challenges are many, from addressing serious close call incidents that have put the entire aviation community on notice, to the need to keep up the FAA’s momentum on air traffic control hiring and training, to continuing to be creative and collaborative with airlines to keep cancellations low after the spike in disruptions last summer.”

The FAA faces a shortage of air traffic controllers that was a contributing factor in the numerous delays at the New York-area airports this summer. Current forecasts estimate that, barring a government shutdown and a lapse in funding, it will take about five years to close the roughly 3,000-controller shortage across the U.S. Whitaker will lead these efforts in his new role.

“We look forward to working collaboratively with the administrator to address the critical issues facing our National Airspace System, including air traffic control staffing shortages and NextGen [air traffic control] modernization implementation,” aviation trade group Airlines for America said. “These complex challenges underscore why steady, permanent leadership at the agency is necessary, especially given the anticipated growth in demand for passenger and cargo air transportation.”

Tourism

U.S. to Lift Vaccine Requirement for International Inbound Travelers

1 year ago

The Biden Administration announced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Covid vaccine requirement for inbound international air travelers to the U.S. will end on May 11. The administration will also remove the requirement for federal employees and contractors.

The U.S. Travel Association applauded the requirement’s repeal. “Today’s action to lift the vaccine requirement eases a significant entry barrier for many global travelers, moving our industry and country forward,” said U.S. Travel President and CEO Geoff Freeman, referring to the May 1 announcement.

The vaccine requirements were put in place to slow the spread of Covid and allow the U.S. healthcare system time to manage care if faced with rising cases and hospitalizations. The Biden Administration cited the decline in Covid cases, hospitalizations and vaccinations as a reason for the repeal.

The removal will likely lead to an increase in international travelers. U.S. Travel called on the government to be prepared. “The federal government must ensure U.S. airports and other ports of entry are appropriately staffed with Customs and Border Protection officers to meet the growing demand for entry,” Freeman said.

Airlines

Flight Attendants Union Boss Sara Nelson Being Considered for U.S. Labor Secretary Job

1 year ago

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the most influential flight attendant union in the U.S., is in the running to be the U.S. Secretary of Labor.

The Biden administration is vetting Nelson as well as U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su to head the Department of Labor once current Labor Secretary Marty Walsh steps down in March. Nelson has already been endorsed by Senator Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont, who called her a leading voice for workers rights in a letter he sent to President Joe Biden. She played a key role in helping secure $25 billion in relief funds for the airline industry early in the pandemic.

Nelson, who has served as the president of the AFA-CWA since 2014, recently came out in support of the proposed $3.8 billion merger between JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines, calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to approve the deal.

Sara Nelson testifying before the U.S. Congress

Airlines

Frontier Is Latest Airline to Improve Family Seating

1 year ago

Frontier Airlines is now automatically seating children with a family member or adult in their party for free.

It announced the new measure on Tuesday, and said it applies to children under the age of 14.

Its booking engine now automatically assigns seats based on family members’ ages before the check-in window opens.

The new feature follows United Airlines’ launch of a new seat map and policy that allows passengers to switch flights for free — amid calls to remove unfair fees.

“We recognize the importance of seating children next to an adult with whom they are traveling,” said Daniel Shurz, senior vice president, commercial, at Frontier.

Airlines

Biden Administration Extends Mandatory Rest for Flight Attendants

2 years ago

The Biden administration is extending the mandatory rest times for flight attendants to 10 hours, implementing a rule that Congress passed four years ago.

U.S. airlines must implement the new cabin crew rest period, which is currently eight hours, within 90 days under the rule signed by Federal Aviation Administration Acting Administrator Billy Nolen on Tuesday. Pilots currently receive a minimum of 10 hours rest.

“I can tell you first hand that well rested crew members are important to safety,” Nolen said. “Flight attendants are the foundation of aviation’s safety culture starting with cabin safety.”

Delta Flight Attendant
(Delta Air Lines)

The extended rest period comes after a challenging few years for flight attendants. The number of unruly passengers onboard flights in the U.S. spiked during the pandemic as people objected to mask mandates and other inflight safety rules. While incidents have fallen in recent months, Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, said Tuesday that they remain too high.

“As aviation’s first responders and last line of defense, it is critical that we are well rested and ready to perform our duties,” Nelson said. “Covid has only exacerbated the safety gap with long duty days, short nights, and combative conditions on planes.”

It is unclear whether the extended rest periods will have any impact on airline workforces, which were strained during the peak summer travel period. However, flight attendant staffing was rarely cited as an issue, and the new rule will be implemented during the slower winter season when there is more staffing flexibility.

The extended flight attendant rest period was passed by Congress in the last FAA reauthorization bill in 2018 but not implemented by the Trump administration.

Airlines

President Biden Calls for Airlines to Reveal All Fees Upfront

2 years ago

During a press conference on Monday, President Joe Biden endorsed a new proposal from the U.S. Transportation Department that would make airlines disclose relevant fees early in a consumer’s shopping process. (See full document, below).

“You should know the full cost of your ticket right when you’re comparison shopping,” Biden said in brief remarks. He said that any “fees for things like sitting next to your child, checking your bag” should be made plain upfront.

The Transportation Department said airlines too often inform customers about fees either too far down in the booking process or after tickets have been purchased, “which is not sufficient disclosure.”

Airlines for America, a lobbying group, said carriers were already transparent about ticket fees.

Here’s the regulatory proposal: