DECEMBER 9, 2020

At Ovation, we remain committed to providing excellent service to our valued clients throughout the COVID-19 global pandemic. Click the link below to view our travel resources guide which includes traveler health & safety information, interactive risk maps, client communications, travel management best practices, webinar recordings and more regarding COVID-19.

Recent announcements of successful COVID-19 vaccine trials by Pfizer and Moderna have provided hope to airlines, which view vaccines as the answer to get air travel volume back to pre-pandemic levels, reports Travel Weekly. But in order for such vaccines to be distributed widely enough to sharply alter the market for travel, passenger airlines themselves will have to play a key role. According to IATA, passenger airlines typically carry approximately half of the world's air cargo, utilizing the bellies of aircraft that are also transporting the flying public. Air cargo specialists, such as UPS, FedEx and DHL, typically carry the other half. In recent months, IATA as well as individual passenger carriers have been readying for a surge of pharmaceutical business when COVID-19 vaccines become available. United's cargo operation, for example, developed a COVID-19 readiness task force over the summer. A key challenge, said United vice president of cargo Chris Busch, is to be ready for the deep freezing that at least some vaccines would require. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, must be kept at minus 94 degrees. In a similar vein, Lufthansa Cargo opened new cold-storage facilities at its Munich hub and at Chicago O'Hare. Meanwhile, IATA has been collaborating with a wide range of governing bodies and global humanitarian organizations, including the World Health Organization, Unicef and the World Bank, in preparation for what will be a sudden and massive increase in the air transport capacity required to address COVID-19 distribution.

American Airlines has announced that it is expanding its preflight testing program for domestic travel. American is the first airline to expand access to at-home testing for all flights to US locations that have COVID-19 restrictions, including Puerto Rico. Tests will be available for purchase beginning December 9th, for travel starting December 12th, through American’s at-home testing partner, LetsGetChecked. “We’ve made great strides to help open international travel with our testing partners, and we recognize the need for similar domestic travel solutions,” said Alison Taylor, Chief Customer Officer for American Airlines. “As travel requirements continue to quickly evolve, we’re simplifying the research and COVID-19 testing fulfillment process for an overall more seamless travel experience.” The airline will continue to work with LetsGetChecked to expand domestic testing as state testing requirements evolve. Current cities, states and territories with COVID-19 travel restrictions include: Alaska, Chicago, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island and Vermont.

Delta Air Lines has announced that it is extending its waiver of no change fees for all tickets purchased through March 30, 2021, and permanently eliminating change fees for all international tickets (including on joint venture and codeshare partners), as long as travel originates in North America. The one exception is Basic Economy tickets, where this policy doesn’t apply. This follows Delta’s previous announcement of the elimination of change fees for travel within the US, Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands, excluding Basic Economy fares.

Additionally, beginning December 15th, Delta will launch its voluntary contact tracing program for travelers entering the US. Delta will become the first US airline to ask international travelers to voluntarily provide data in order to aid contact tracing and public health follow-up efforts. Delta is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to streamline contact-tracing efforts by directly and securely transmitting five requested data points to the CDC via US Customs and Border Protection. The five data points include: Full name, Email address, Address in the US, Primary phone and Secondary phone. Submitting the data will be voluntary, although it will be required of travelers participating in Delta's "COVID-tested" flights arriving from Rome later this month. Delta said it that it will only keep the data "for no longer than is necessary to achieve the contact tracing and public health follow-up objectives."

United Airlines has announced that travelers will soon have access to virtual, on-demand customer service at the airline's hubs, giving travelers an easy, contact-free option to get real-time information and support. Travelers can access "Agent on Demand" on any mobile device to call, text or video chat live with a customer service agent and get answers on everything from seat assignments to boarding times. Agent on Demand is currently available at Chicago O'Hare (ORD) and Houston's George Bush International (IAH) Airports and is rolling out to United's hubs by end of year. Designed to provide service with social distancing, travelers can access the agents by scanning a QR code on signs throughout United's Chicago and Houston hubs. Agents can act as gate agents, providing information such as seat assignments, upgrades, flight status and rebooking options. The chat option also has translation functionality, enabling travelers to chat with agents in more than 100 languages.

With more than 85 million Americans expected to travel for the upcoming holidays, airports across the US are ramping up COVID-19 testing to complement face mask and social distancing requirements in the fight against COVID-19. In some cases, testing is only available to travelers flying select airlines or en route to certain destinations requiring a negative COVID-19 test result for entry. Travel Pulse has provided a state by state breakdown of the airports leading the charge in terms of testing this December. Click "Read More" below to view the comprehensive list.

As of December 5th, the UK government is allowing a quarantine exemption for business travelers arriving in England who "deliver significant benefit" to the UK economy, reports Business Travel News. It said that individuals "undertaking specific business activity which would deliver a significant benefit to the UK economy, including activity that creates or preserves 50-plus UK jobs, will no longer need to self-isolate when traveling or returning from non-exempt countries." The government added that individuals only would be exempt when undertaking the specific business activity and only would be able to meet with others as required by that specific activity. Further information will be made available when the exemptions come into force. It added that domestic and international performing arts professionals, TV production staff, journalists and recently signed elite sportspersons, also would be exempt "ensuring that industries which require specific, high talent individuals who rely on international connections can continue to complete their work."