OCTOBER 28, 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.

In mid-October, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it screened more than 1 million travelers in a single day. As more travelers take to the sky, TSA Directors around the country have recommended a variety of tips for flying during COVID-19 to ensure a safer experience, reports Travel + Leisure. TSA's advice for travelers include tips such as washing hands, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, removing items from pockets prior to going through a checkpoint and placing food items in clear plastic bag, packing smart, following expert guidance and more. Click "Read More" below to view the complete list.

Amtrak announced earlier this month that it is ready to offer enhanced train travel experiences with social distancing in mind, bringing about limited seating arrangements to decrease the risk of COVID-19 this holiday season. Amtrak has many features to help mitigate the risks of COVID-19, such as enhanced cleaning protocols, contactless amenities, social distancing on board and in stations, required face coverings and sophisticated air filtration. Its trains also keep the middle seats empty to promote social distancing. “By combining our enhanced safety efforts with the guidance of our full-time medical director and public health and safety teams who are working in partnership with experts from the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, we want to ensure our customers feel a renewed sense of confidence when they travel with us this holiday season,” said Amtrak President and CEO Bill Flynn. Amtrak also strongly encourages travelers to plan ahead and book early to guarantee available tickets. Bookings will be limited to allow for more physical distancing in seating areas.

Hilton Hotels Corporation has announced that it has made several adjustments to its Hilton Honors loyalty program, including point extensions and lowered status milestones. No Hilton Honors points will expire until December 31, 2021. Previously, points could expire if a member did not show activity in their account for at least 15 months, according to the program's terms and conditions. Further, Silver, Gold and Diamond members who were set to downgrade in 2020 or 2021 will have their status extended to March 31, 2022. Hilton also has lowered the status qualification requirements by 50 percent across all tiers, including stays, nights and base points in 2021. As previously announced, all 2020 nights automatically will roll over to the 2021 calendar year. Hilton is the latest major hotel chain to extend its loyalty program, joining Hyatt and Marriott.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have said that transmission risks of COVID-19 during airline flights are very low and below other routine activities during the pandemic such as grocery shopping or going out to dinner, when using face coverings and taking other steps, reports Reuters. The report found transmission risks can be “reduced to very low levels through the combination of layered infection control measures.” The Aviation Public Health Initiative team at Harvard recommended strategies to mitigate transmission risk on aircraft, during boarding and exiting. The report found after airlines mandated masks, boosted cleaning procedures and revised boarding procedures, “and with millions of passenger hours flown, there has been little evidence to date of onboard disease transmission.” The report noted commercial passenger aircraft are equipped with ventilation systems that refresh cabin air on average every 2-3 minutes and removing more than 99% of particles of the size that cause SARS-CoV-2.

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) has said that it tentatively approved the proposed agreement between Delta Air Lines and WestJet that would allow both airlines to expand flights beyond the US-Canada border, reports Travel Market Report. The agreement was first announced when the airlines signed a memorandum of understanding in December 2017 and finally received the long-awaited approval needed from the DOT, though conditions remain. Should the deal be completely finalized, it will create a partnership that will allow the airlines to serve more than 30 cities and over 95% of the US and Canada. It will also allow both to provide frequent flyer and loyalty benefits to flyers from both airlines.

American Airlines expects it will be half the size it was through the end of this year, but CEO Doug Parker thinks its flight network makes American uniquely poised to recover quickly, reports Skift. American sees its strong flight network to Mexico, the Caribbean and South America as key to the first stage of its recovery. These primarily leisure routes are rebounding more quickly than routes to Europe and Asia, American’s executives said during the company’s third-quarter 2020 earnings call. Compared with Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, American historically has had the strongest network to Latin America of the three. It now sees this strength as a differentiator, as fewer countries in the region have imposed quarantines than in Europe and Asia and their tourism-reliant economies are more eager to re-open. American expects flights to Latin America and the Caribbean to reach 70 percent of 2019’s levels soon, President Robert Isom told analysts during the call.

Southwest Airlines announced last week that it will start fully booking popular routes in December, unblocking middle seats that it has kept vacant during the COVID-19 pandemic, reports NBC News. The carrier cited several studies that the airline said shows the risk of getting COVID-19 on an airplane is extremely rare when everyone wears a mask. "This practice of effectively keeping middle seats open bridged us from the early days of the pandemic, when we had little knowledge about the behavior of the virus, to now,'' the airline said in a statement. "Today, aligned with science-based findings from trusted medical and aviation organizations, we will resume selling all available seats for travel beginning December 1, 2020.'' Delta and Alaska are the only two US airlines now committing to block middle seats through January 2021.