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Transport

COVID-19 Relief Bill Includes $10 Billion for US Airports

The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act agreed upon by U.S. Congress and the Trump administration this week would provide $10 billion in direct assistance to airports across the country.

However, Travel Weekly reports that the billions in grants could come with a catch as airports would be required to retain at least 90 percent of their workforce through the end of 2020 in exchange for the funds.

A majority of the grants for commercial airports, about $7.4 billion would be distributed proportionally based on the number of passengers each served in 2019 in addition to a formula that weighs each airport’s debt service paid against its unrestricted reserves.

Airports Council International-North America (ACI-NA) applauded the Senate’s passage of the CARES Act on Wednesday, adding that the nation’s airports are facing billions of dollars in losses due to slumping demand and travel restrictions amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The entire airport industry is extremely grateful Congress and the Trump administration have stepped up to help offset a portion of the $14 billion and counting that airports will lose this year as a result of the steep, unexpected drop in travel brought about by the coronavirus health pandemic,” said ACI-NA President and CEO Kevin M. Burke in a statement.

The latest checkpoint data from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) reveals a startling decline in air travel since the beginning of March. What’s more, ACI-NA projects passenger traffic at U.S. commercial airports to fall by 73 percent during the period of March to June. Such a dropoff would represent a 53 percent decrease in the first half of 2020 and a 37 percent dip for the full year compared to forecasted 2020 levels.

“Total airport operating revenue is expected to decrease by roughly $12.3 billion for the calendar year,” the group added.

If passed by the House and ultimately signed into law by Trump as expected, the CARES Act would also bail out U.S. airlines with at least $58 billion split between loans and payroll grants.

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Travel

Australians ordered to return home amid pandemic

The Australian government has urged its citizens to return home and for no new international journeys to start. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs said: “We now advise all Australians to reconsider your need for overseas travel at this time. 

“Regardless of your destination, age or health if your overseas travel is not essential, consider carefully whether now is the right time.”

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Prospective travellers are warned: “There may be a higher risk of contracting Covid-19 overseas. You may come in contact with more people than usual, including during long-haul flights and in crowded airports.

“Health care systems in some countries may come under strain and may not be as well-equipped as Australia’s or have the capacity to support foreigners.

“Overseas travel has become more complex and unpredictable. Many countries are introducing entry or movement restrictions. 

“You may be placed in quarantine or denied entry to some countries. Think about what this might mean for your health, and your family, work or study responsibilities.”

All Australians returning to the country, as well as overseas visitors, are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

All cruise ships which have sailed from a foreign port have been banned from entering Australian ports for 30 days.

In a bid to make domestic holidays more appealing, entry fees for Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Kakadu and Booderee National Parks have been dropped for the end of the year.

Air New Zealand says it will cut flights to and from Australia by 80 per cent between 30 March and 30 June.

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Travel

Couple fakes cruise after anniversary holiday cancelled by coronavirus

As the coronavirus pandemic shuts down travel around the world, one couple weren’t prepared for it to ruin their holiday plans.

Norma and Dave Trill, both 74, were booked onto a 10-day cruise to celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary.

The pair from Melbourne were left disappointed when the trip was cancelled due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

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But a video of them shared online shows them celebrating in style, dressed in robes and sunglasses with their feet up and looking out across the “ocean” – courtesy of YouTube.

The couple clink glasses, looking relaxed and happy, in the clip shared on Facebook by their daughter Jane.

“Cruise cancelled? No problem,” she captioned the video.

Jane set up the “fake” cruise for her parents to make them smile.

“They cancelled their trip due to the coronavirus and we thought we would cheer them up by simulating the trip using a YouTube video of the ocean and they dressed in their usual cruising attire,” she told Storyful. 

“We laughed for ages over it and it really lifted our spirits. [We were] rolling on the floor laughing.”

The video has received hundreds of thousands of views, with many viewers judging it a great idea.

“I love this! We need to do this too, as our family Disney Cruise was cancelled as well!” said one commenter, while another wrote: “Love it, looks very relaxing”.

It comes after several leading cruise lines announced they would be temporarily suspending all sailings.

Viking, Princess Cruises and Saga are among the companies that have cancelled all trips for the next month or so.

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Travel

United Airlines halves flights and expects planes to be no more than 30 per cent full

One of the world’s biggest airlines will halve its planned schedule of flights in April and May – and predicts aircraft that do fly will be no more than 30 per cent full.

United Airlines’ chief executive, Oscar Munoz, and president, Scott Kirby, sent a message to almost 100,000 staff about the effect of the coronavirus crisis on the carrier. It included a warning that demand for air travel could temporarily fall to zero.

“We took early, aggressive action because we have been determined to do everything possible to avoid painful steps that affect your paycheck,” they said.

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“But, based on the severity of the situation, that no longer appears realistic. 

“When medical experts say that our health and safety depends on people staying home and practising social distancing, it’s nearly impossible to run a business whose shared purpose is ‘Connecting people. Uniting the world’.“

March is usually United’s busiest month of the year, but the Chicago-based airline predicts revenue will be $1.5bn (£1.2bn) lower than March 2019.

“The bad news is that it’s getting worse,” the executives said. “We expect both the number of customers and revenue to decline sharply in the days and weeks ahead.

“We also now expect these deep cuts to extend into the summer travel period.

“Even with those cuts, we’re expecting load factors to drop into the 20-30 per cent range — and that’s if things don’t get worse.

“We are working night and day on support and ideas to keep as much pay as we possibly can flowing to you – even if gets worse from here and demand temporarily plummets to zero.”

Senior executives have had their pay halved, and Mr Munoz has said he will forego his basic salary.

On a normal day, United and its United Express affiliates operate almost 5,000 flights carrying half a million passengers. 

United’s competitors have also made deep cuts: Delta has announced a 40 per cent schedule reduction, while American said it will reduce its international capacity by 75 per cent.

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Travel

Simon Calder: Trump’s coronavirus travel ban will cause lasting damage to international tourism

Too much, too late: that sums up President Trump’s unprecedented ban on Europeans visiting the US.

As tourists and business travellers with transatlantic bookings are turned away from airports, the coronavirus journey has taken another alarming swerve into uncharted territory.

Banning French and German visitors will have little effect on flattening the curve of infection in America. But it will traumatise the travel industry and cause lasting damage to the reputation of the US as a welcoming destination.

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In the short term, the travel plans of millions of people have been torn up – with airlines, hotels and travel insurers squabbling over who takes the biggest hits of a billion-dollar decision.

Transatlantic airlines are now facing a cataclysmic fall in bookings: while British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are continuing to fly, plenty of their business involves taking Continental Europeans via London Heathrow to the US.

American destinations heavily dependent on international tourism, including New York City, Florida and California, will see a slump in visitor numbers that will hit every business, from Main Street diners to giant theme parks.

Forward bookings for the summer are likely to cease – not just from Continental Europe but also from other nations, whose prospective holidaymakers will not take the risk of falling foul of a new and arbitrary travel ban.

When the mist of coronavirus fears finally clears, the US will face an uphill battle to re-energise international tourism. Taking visitors for granted and then excluding them on a presidential whim is not a strategy for long-term success.

The US move will also damage the flagging tourism fortunes on this side of the Atlantic. Trump’s ban sent a message to Americans that Europe is unsafe.

Added to Israel’s decision to close its airports and borders to foreigners, and Vietnam introducing impossibly draconian visa rules, who would book a trip abroad with confidence?

Until 2020, the main battle in tourism was between nations seeking to grab a larger slice of the ever-expanding travel cake. That cake is shrinking rapidly.

From now on, the bigger struggle will be to convince the newly wary to venture from their homes at all.

Travel, the industry of human happiness, has never felt so miserable.

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Travel

UAE bans cruise ships in bid to stop coronavirus from spreading

As coronavirus continues to spread, the number of confirmed cases is leaping by thousands each day and the death toll is stacking up.

After a number of outbreaks on board cruise ships, most notably Diamond Princess, there’s been growing fears that they are turning into hotbeds for the virus.

The residents of La Reunion pelted rocks at one ship while the Dominican Republic turned away another, despite the fact that there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus on board.

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On Sunday, the US warned its citizens not to travel on cruise ships.

Now, the UAE, alongside India, has gone one step further by banning cruise ships altogether.

Celebrity Cruises has had to cancel a number of upcoming sailings due to the ban.

A spokesperson told The Independent: “Due to decisions by the governments of India and United Arab Emirates (UAE) to deny port entry to all cruise ships, we have made the difficult decision to end Celebrity Constellation’s March 2nd sailing early.  At this time, the Government of India has approved our extended stay in Mumbai until Tuesday, March 10th, to facilitate debarkation for all guests. 

“Guests will receive a 100 percent cruise refund as compensation for disruption to their travel plans. Guests with shore excursions in Goa, Cochin, Abu Dhabi, or Dubai, booked through Celebrity Cruises, will automatically receive a refund to their onboard account. Celebrity Cruises will also assist all guests with air travel arrangements for their return home.”

The cruise line is also having to cancel the 17 March and 2 April sailings for the ship. Passengers booked on both will receive a full refund as well as a 25 per cent future cruise credit.

Royal Caribbean is believed to have ended a cruise early due to the ban. The Independent has approached the cruise line for comment.

Carnival Corp, which owns a number of cruise lines including Carnival Cruises, Cunard, P&O and Princess Cruises says they are not affected by the ban.

UAE’s cruise ship ban follows a advisory to residents, including citizens and ex pats, not to travel abroad. Those who do are warned they could be put into quarantine.

The country has also closed its schools for four weeks while a large number of events have been cancelled.

 

 

 

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Travel

Aviation will feel the devastating effects of coronavirus for years to come

How bad is the crisis in aviation created by the spread of coronavirus? Worse than anything I have witnessed.

Only two previous events bear any comparison with the current collapse in revenue for airlines. One was the volcanic ash crisis a decade ago, when air travel across northern Europe were closed for almost a week as that pesky eruption of Eja pumped tons of finely powdered Iceland into the skies.

The other: the days, weeks and months following the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

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The eruption interruption cost the airlines millions in both lost revenue and care costs (despite the strenuous efforts of some carriers to limit the damage by misrepresenting passengers’ rights). But once it was over, bookings soon bounced back – and safety officials have since then taken a more measured view of the threat posed by volcanic action.

The aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 is a closer fit to the coronavirus crisis. The effects lasted much longer, and changed the airline business permanently.

Many companies that had previously bankrolled the airline business initially banned their executives from travelling. And when they started flying again, the worldwide financial shock after 9/11 persuaded previously lazy businesses to reassess their company travel bill. No more £500 Club Europe tickets to Frankfurt (although these are sometimes still available at that price); you’re in economy or possibly, wait for it, on a no-frills carrier.

The financial markets recognised that the model of the “legacy” airlines was broken. Supporting a bloated cost base through overcharging business and leisure travellers no longer worked if passengers could just walk across to Ryanair and easyJet – both of which emerged from the downturn in remarkably good shape, assisted by the collapse of carriers such as Sabena of Belgium and Swissair.

The coronavirus crisis will have equally profound effects on the shape of the airline business, and initially they will be to the detriment of the travelling public.

Barriers, both official and emotional, are making travel less appealing by the day. Individual nations are attempting to fight the Covid-19 biohazard with a series of haphazard bans – which shred future confidence for affected passengers. The prospect of being on the wrong side of a quarantine order is a threat none of us had previously contemplated, but it will add to the reasons not to fly.

Once airlines can calibrate the long-term loss of appetite for air travel, they will make designs about the routes to cut. They will strive to avoid intense competition, spelling higher fares on previously cutthroat links such as Manchester to Malaga and the London airports to Rome.

Long haul will lose some appeal. Many passengers love the Airbus A380, but airline accountants generally don’t – especially during lean times, when the 500-plus seats are hard to fill at any price. No surprise that Lufthansa and Qantas both chose to ground the superjumbo ahead of smaller twin jets.

When the aviation industry presses the “reset” button, it won’t take us back to the dark ages when airlines could get away with overcharging and earning enough for a trip to Australia typically took three months’ work at the average wage. But for airline passengers, the good times have flown – for now.

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Travel

Passengers entering UK from Italy face ‘zero checks’ for coronavirus at airport

People entering the UK from Italy face “zero checks” for coronavirus at the airport, according to passengers.

Journalist Federico Gatti tweeted a picture of passport gates at Gatwick with no staff manning them on Sunday 8 March, writing: “Just landed in London from Milan. Zero checks. No info. How can it be possible?”

It follows the Italian government announcing that the entire Lombardy region, which includes Milan, plus 14 provinces including Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Padua and Venice are under quarantine.

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The lockdown applies to approximately 16 million people – more than a quarter of Italy’s whole population.

Other travellers confirmed the lack of checks at the airport on social media.

“A friend has had family return from Italy today and confirmed no checks on landing at Heathrow,” tweeted Kate. “It’s like our government don’t care or have any plan of action to prevent the spread of #coronavirus #COVID19.”

Michael Keohan wrote on Twitter: “Not to scaremonger – but I’ve just landed back from Italy at Heathrow. No thermal imaging, no info on Covid-19; just a bit of hand sanitizer if you fancied it! Unreal.”

“Current stats show an alarming increase in infected people in Italy, which probably reflects that they have also tested many more people,” added Lawrie Erasmus on Twitter. 

“The UK seems to be waiting for the storm to arrive. At Heathrow today, no screening of my son’s flight from Milan – that cannot be right.”

Italy’s death count from Covid-19 has soared to 366 while confirmed cases are now at more than 7,000.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is now advising against all but essential travel to: the Lombardy region (which includes the cities of Milan, Bergamo, Como) and the provinces of Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Rimini (all in Emilia Romagna); Pesaro e Urbino (in Marche); Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Vercelli (all in Piedmont); Padova, Treviso and Venice (in Veneto).

British nationals remain able to depart Italy without restriction.

Public Health England told The Independent it has implemented various protocols at UK airports, although none include testing for Covid-19.

Measures in place include: briefing cabin crew on symptoms and what to do if someone reports that they have symptoms; the captain calling ahead to warn of any illness on the flight to allow for early risk assessment by public health teams; if anyone on the flight is symptomatic, a general aircraft declaration (GAD) must be submitted to allow for a public health risk assessment and any required action to be taken before disembarkation; information on symptoms and necessary actions is provided to patients while on the flight and/or upon landing (this includes Italy specific posters and leaflets highlighting specific areas). 

This process has been in place for Northern Italy since 4 March, and will be rolled out for flights from the whole of Italy by 11 March.

All flights arriving from Italy are met with PHE posters and leaflets at ports in nine different languages. A bespoke poster for Italy has been sent to all airports, seaports and international train terminals to provide clarity to passengers on which areas of Italy are affected. 

There is also a public health campaign at ports focused on how to prevent the spread of the virus through hand washing.

A Heathrow spokesperson said: “The welfare of our passengers and colleagues is always our main priority. We continue to work closely with Public Health England officials to facilitate their access to the airport so that they can implement their enhanced monitoring measures. In line with the latest Public Health England advice, we are encouraging passengers and colleagues to maintain good hand hygiene – including washing hands thoroughly – and report any suspected symptoms to NHS 111.

“We also encourage passengers and colleagues with individual questions or concerns about Coronavirus or travel to affected countries to refer to guidance from Public Health England and the Foreign Office.” 

“Gatwick is following the advice of Public Health England in full and – like other UK airports – has an advanced monitoring process in place for direct flights from affected areas, including Italy,” said a Gatwick spokesperson. 

“The latest advice from Public Health England for passengers is also displayed throughout the terminals and enhanced cleaning is taking place in public areas across the airport.

“The airport remains in regular contact with the relevant authorities to ensure that all the appropriate processes are in place and we will continue to follow their advice on this matter in full.” 

A spokesperson for MAG, which operates Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports, told The Independent: “The safety and security of passengers and staff will always be our number one priority.

“We are following guidance from Public Health England. The vast majority of flights scheduled are currently arriving and departing as planned, with no changes to staffing levels or procedures.

 “Posters and leaflets are in place to give customers the latest public health guidance, including information about what they should do if they feel unwell on their return. 

 “We will continue to work with PHE to help determine what further steps would need to be taken, should circumstances change in the future.”

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Travel

Confusion for travellers as BA cancels dozens of Italy flights over coronavirus

British Airways has cancelled 36 flights on Monday to and from northern Italy – but other airlines, including easyJet, are continuing to operate.

BA cancelled the flights, mainly to Milan and Venice, after the Italian government imposed unprecedented restrictions on swathes of territory to try to limit the spread of coronavirus. 

The Foreign Office has published three different versions of its advice to British travellers for Italy in the past 24 hours. Until early on Monday morning it stopped short of urging against travel to the country apart from 11 small towns in the north.

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The latest advice warns against travel to the entire Lombardy region, which includes Milan, and 14 provinces (roughly approximating to counties) which include Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Padua and Venice.

The effect of this warning is to allow travellers who are on proper package holidays (with flights and accommodation booked together) to cancel and obtain a full refund.

It has no legal force to compel airlines to refund passengers who have bought flight-only arrangements.

The official advice says: “British nationals remain able to depart Italy without restriction. Residents of other parts of Italy are permitted to leave the isolation areas to return home. 

“Otherwise entry into and exit from these areas is forbidden without official permission on the grounds of strict necessity; the authorities have confirmed to us that this will be granted for reasons such as medical need or work requirements.

“Travellers should check flight details with airlines. Additional restrictions include the closure of museums, cultural institutions and the suspension of all public gatherings, social events including pubs, nightclubs and games halls.

“Religious ceremonies and funerals are suspended. Ski facilities in the affected mountain areas are closed. Restaurants and bars remain open from 6am to 6pm.

“Across the whole of Italy, museums and cultural institutions are closed.”

Meanwhile, British Airways is telling passengers booked to travel to Milan, Venice or Bergamo up to 4 April 2020 that they can claim a full refund.

For travel to Turin, Bologna and Verona up to 4 April 2020, they can rebook up to and including 31 May 2020 without the usual change penalties.

But easyJet is continuing to fly and, at 6am on Monday morning, appears to be sticking rigidly to its normal terms and conditions.

The budget airline says: “If you cancel, miss, or do not take your flight unfortunately we will be unable to provide you with a refund.”

It is telling worried passengers who want to speak to someone at the airline: “We are currently experiencing extremely high call volumes and appreciate the inconvenience it causes.

“To reduce waiting times please contact us within 48 hours of your departure date.”

One passenger, “Stu C”, tweeted easyJet to say: “I can’t wait to enter the recently quarantined zone in northern Italy next week, assuming you’re still incredibly reluctant to cancel any flights?”

The airline responded: “We will be flying as normal. We won’t be refunding but you can change your flights on manage bookings for a fee or cancel and receive any air passenger duty back and an insurance letter to claim for the booking via your travel insurance.”

But also on Twitter, easyJet told many passengers: “We’re reviewing our flights to Milan Malpensa, Milan Linate, Venice and Verona airports for the period from now until 3 April 2020.

“We will be cancelling a number of flights to and from these airports on 9 March. A full refund or free transfer will be given.”

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Travel

UAE warns residents, including expats, not to travel anywhere amid coronavirus outbreak

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has told its residents, including British expats, not to travel anywhere abroad amid the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

The nation’s Health and Community Protection Ministry delivered the warning on 5 March, reports AP.

Officials said that anyone who travelled abroad could face quarantine themselves upon their return.

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Two major airlines are based in the UAE: Emirates, which is government-owned and flies out of Dubai International Airport, and Etihad, the flag carrier for Abu Dhabi.

Both have already been hit hard by reduced demand for flights due to the virus, which has spread to 85 countries and killed more than 3,200 people worldwide.

Emirates has asked staff to take unpaid leave for up to a month after cancelling flights to Iran, Bahrain and most of China because of coronavirus. 

“Considering the availability of additional resources and the fact that many employees want to utilise their leave, we have provided our employees the option to avail leave or apply for voluntary unpaid leave for up to one month at a time,” chief operating officer Adel al-Redha said in a statement.

Etihad has taken a similar stance, asking some staff to bring forward their leave from later in the year to combat a reduction in operations.

An Etihad spokesperson told Gulf News that the airline has asked cabin crew members to consider “bringing forward paid leave from later this year to April, due to changed demand caused by the Covid-19 virus.”

The airline added: “Global restrictions on travel and re-timing of events have caused many passengers to change their travel arrangements, and the airline is among many realigning resources to accommodate these changes.”

The latest UAE travel advisory is likely to have an even bigger impact on the two international carriers.

It comes as the International Air Transport Association (Iata) releases its estimate that the coronavirus outbreak could cost the aviation industry as much as $113bn (£87.47bn) this year – almost quadruple its previous forecast.

The industry body had previously estimated that the deadly bug would cost the industry $29.3bn (£22.68bn) in terms of lost revenue, but this was based on a scenario where the impact of coronavirus would be “largely confined to markets associated with China”.

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