The Daily Flyer
Happy new year, welcome back, and welcome to the first 2021 edition of “The Daily Flyer!” After a long, COVID-induced layoff, The Higher Flyer‘s newsletter is back to gather up and summarize some of the most important happenings in the world of airlines, hotels, award points, and other travel-related things. Today’s feature — for January 4, 2021 — examines the state of higher flying entering 2021, and it also bids farewell to Fido (in a way), covers a (potentially) practical aspect of higher flying in a pandemic, and, on a more aspirational note, it highlights some new hotels scheduled to open in 2021.
The Headline Feature
Since the last edition of “The Daily Flyer” — which was published more than seven months ago on May 20, 2020 — the airline industry, plus the travel industry at large, seems to have settled in to the new normal. “The recovery has begun,” the newsletter’s headline proclaims, “but…”
…And that “but” is a big one. There’s so much still left unknown about the state of affairs, and the time of reckoning is nigh. There’s some encouraging news as we head in to the new year: the landscape indeed changed in 2020, but not to the degree that most experts and analysts predicted it would. Unless you’re FlyBe or Montenegro Air, the corporate apocalypse hasn’t come yet; every major airline survived 2020! Granted, many have been teetering on the brink of collapse for months now, others completely restructured or merged, and Alitalia was nationalized by the Italian government and, like a phoenix from the ashes, it was relaunched as ITA (or so it seems; there are a lot more questions than answers).
It’d be easy to look at this news, remember the dire circumstances, and say “this is fine,” but that would gloss over the immense losses that everyone in the industry has suffered. While many major carriers are able to effectively fill their planes nowadays, that comes at the expense of reduced capacity. With fewer flights and passengers to support, staff positions become expendable and workers become vulnerable to layoffs. Governments are offering relief fund packages valued in the billions of dollars, but when you consider that U.S. airlines alone burn $180 million per day, it’s obvious that that money isn’t enough to significantly shift financial fortunes. With persistent burdens like these, it’s reasonable to expect that more jobs will be cut and airlines will contract further unless something changes.
Fewer travelers also means that hotel bookings are way down, although the major players (Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott) haven’t struggled financially to the same extent that their flying counterparts have. Still though, they’ve been forced to temporarily close many of their properties, furlough staffs, and employ other cost-cutting measures in the interim. They too are holding on, but the future isn’t too promising, and it’s unclear how long they can continue at these rates.
The trends are alarming, but the massive losses have been characteristic of 2020, and most everyone is still standing in some form or another. The companies have made it work (in part due to various government bailouts) thus far, and while their models may not be sustainable for much longer, there’s reason for optimism as we head in to 2021. With multiple viable COVID-19 vaccines ready for mass distribution, people could resume traveling in a few short weeks (or months), and the ongoing recovery could be accelerated. Whether or not that turn-around happens, and the pace at which it does, will undoubtedly be this year’s biggest story line.
The vaccines are a promising development, but there are too many variables at play right now to make meaningful assurances for the future of higher flying. Perhaps millions get the shot over the coming months, but most international borders remain closed and would-be travelers by and large decide to stay home. That outcome might happen and it could spell doom for a number of companies… or it might not happen and things will continue along as is (if not improve). As has been the case for the better part of a year now, we don’t know what’s next, and the status quo has the propensity to change very, very quickly. All that’s certain is that the pandemic — and how governments, companies, and individuals react to it — will exert the most influence over the entire industry’s trajectory.
There’s a recent and prominent example that could foreshadow continued volatility in 2021. Many European/EU countries spent the summer and fall cautiously-but-progressively opening back up for business. Leisure travel was, among other things, becoming more acceptable. The news of a COVID remedy ready for public distribution sent spirits high, but the good vibes came grinding to a halt when a new strain of the virus appeared in the United Kingdom right before Christmas. Brits now face tough restrictions when traveling internationally, and wide swaths of people across the continent are now sheltering-in-place. That’s the responsible thing to do, but this is terrible news for the companies that are literally banking on a recovery.
As we wait for the control of and the end of the pandemic once and for all, hopefully there’ll be some creative and responsible solutions that stimulate travel activity in the meantime. Perhaps governments and airlines can successfully establish travel bubbles that are predicated on “negative” COVID tests. Maybe there’ll be stricter quarantine requirements when flying internationally, or, more dramatically, borders will be closed entirely. On the flip side, perhaps entrance requirements will be waived for those who present shot cards denoting a COVID vaccination. Various players in the industry could offer lucrative deals that entice people to venture out of their homes too. We’ll just have to see…
There’s a lot coming our way(s), and for the most relevant recovery updates for higher flyers, consider subscribing to The Higher Flyer for subsequent “Daily Flyer” newsletters (it’s free!). For better or for worse, 2021 going to be a fascinating year.
P.S. — Remember to be considerate of others, socially distance, and wear a mask.
From The Higher Flyer
With travel on hold for the past few months, there hasn’t been much to write about, and the state of affairs have been bleak. Who wants to read about all the doom and gloom without much hope for the immediate future? I definitely didn’t want to write about it, so accordingly, The Higher Flyer went on hiatus. The light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel is growing closer by the day though, so “Daily Flyers” and postings on Tuesdays and Fridays (at the minimum) will be back in the new year. Keep your eyes peeled!
(There’s already a new published “Photo of the Week” too!)
In the meantime, check out this post from The Higher Flyer‘s archive: “2019 New Years’ Resolutions for Higher Flyers”. Sure, it’s now a couple years old, but many of its suggestions (like “be kind to everyone”) still hold true today. Some, such as “practice good hygiene when you fly,” are all the more important in 2021.
Other developments, discussions, and articles in higher flying
1. Alaska Airlines “announces revisions to its service animal policy” (and bans emotional support animals on its flights)
At the beginning of December, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced that emotional support animals (ESAs) are no longer considered service animals, and as a result, airlines are no longer obligated to accommodate them. Note that while service animals are rigorously trained to assist their owners, ESAs are not. Because it’s cheap and easy to certify a pet as an ESA (seriously, Google it and look at the sheer number of results that are returned), unscrupulous travelers have sought to take advantage of regulations that allowed their “less-qualified” companions — including mini horses and a “comfort” turkey — to fly for free. This is wrong in the same way that able-bodied people shouldn’t use handicapped spots, and also because, in the words of an Alaska Airlines press release, “numerous instances of emotional support animal misbehavior… caused injuries, health hazards and damage to aircraft cabins.”
So, enough! Effective January 11, 2021, ESAs will be no more on Alaska Airlines. Service dogs are fortunately still allowed, but their owners are obligated to “attest that their animal is a legitimate service dog, is trained and vaccinated and will behave appropriately during the journey.” Perhaps now that USDOT has given explicit permission for these practices, other carriers will follow. Higher flyers can hope!
Sourced directly from Alaska Airlines; should you want it, there’s additional commentary courtesy of Matt at Live and Let’s Fly.
2. What to watch for if you buy travel insurance for COVID-19 coverage
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, The Higher Flyer went on record to discourage readers from purchasing trip insurance. In spite of all that has happened since, that assertion still stands simply because the policies seldom make for good investments. For one, a number of travel credit cards already offer insurance as a perk, and for many THF readers, spending more money on this would be redundant. Why buy something that you’re already paying for via an annual fee? The policies are complicated by rules and regulations and conditions to the point of uselessness — their coverage is prohibitively limited in scope — and the pushy, fear-mongering tactics that are used to sell them are equally uncool.
We’re past the point of cliché to write that the pandemic has introduced a new normal, but it has and, in doing so, it adjusted the value proposition of trip insurance. You’re still probably better off without a policy, but if you’re vulnerable/exposed to the virus, now it might make a bit more sense to get one (although if that’s the case, why are you traveling to begin with?). If you insist, Elina Geller’s primer on COVID-19 coverage should be required reading. It succinctly explains the need-to-know points and best practices, and while there is some sponsored content in her article, it’s buried underneath useful advice and otherwise clean writing.
3. “TPG‘s 21 most anticipated hotel openings of 2021″
2021 has the potential to be incredible for higher flyers. The hype heading in to the new year is palpable — even though it’s not safe/responsible to travel…yet — and The Points Guy recently published a list of 21 hotels openings to look forward to in the coming months. No matter if you’re actively planning for future travel or simply seeking inspiration, the collection is as impressive as it diverse. There’s something for everyone, and even though the paid rates for many of them will be high, most all of those expenses can be offset with award points. Some of the standouts include:
What fun it will be to visit these (in due time, of course!).
…And that it’s for today! Got any tips? Questions? Comments? Email anything and everything to Paul@TheHigherFlyer.org, or comment below. In the meantime, thanks for reading, fly higher, and see you Wednesday (there’s a new small surprise for Tuesday); happy 2021 to you and yours as well!
Curious about yesterday’s news today? It’s been a while, but click here to see past entries of “The Daily Flyer.”