COVID-19

Major airline CEOs to arrive at White House Friday for meeting on COVID-19 issues

Sabri Ben-Achour, Scott Tong, and Alex Schroeder Jun 26, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace Morning Report
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The numbers show that only about half a million Americans are flying every day. That’s one-fifth the normal amount for the early summer. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
COVID-19

Major airline CEOs to arrive at White House Friday for meeting on COVID-19 issues

Sabri Ben-Achour, Scott Tong, and Alex Schroeder Jun 26, 2020
The numbers show that only about half a million Americans are flying every day. That’s one-fifth the normal amount for the early summer. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
Share Now on:
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Airlines executives are going to the White House on Friday. On the agenda, reportedly: coronavirus issues including checking passengers’ temperatures and contact tracing concerns.

It comes at a time when airline workers are pleading for more government help.

Marketplace’s Scott Tong is following this. The following is an edited transcript of his conversation with Marketplace’s Sabri Ben-Achour.

Sabri Ben-Achour: What have the airlines been doing to coax back flyers and keep them safe?

Scott Tong: The big airlines say they’re screening passenger temperatures now, and reports suggest they’ll ask the government to mandate that. They require masks from check-in all the way to arrival. But the numbers show that only about half a million Americans are flying every day. That’s one-fifth the normal amount for the early summer. So, by the numbers this is one of the worst downturns ever for this industry.

Ben-Achour: The airlines have already received some $25 billion in relief money. Are they asking for more?

Tong: The airlines aren’t. As you mentioned, they got $25 billion in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, and in return promised not to lay people off, through September. Who knows if things will recover then?

The unions representing air industry workers are asking for another $25 billion to guarantee jobs after the money ends on Sept. 30. And pilots for American Airlines want the government to purchase all the middle seats, to space people out. We should say, the airlines are offering voluntary buyouts to their workers.

I just spoke to James Carlson, a spokesman at the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. He says their members already are taking voluntary leaves and work reductions:

“The airline workers have stepped up and helped out their companies. And we just want to see this through and do the things that are smart. Because if we just take a hands-off approach to this, we will have a much worse situation on our hands on Oct. 1.”

Ben-Achour: Is bailing out airlines considered a good use of the public’s money?

Tong: Every industry calls itself critical. Last month a group of brand-name economists pushed a working paper on COVID-19 recovery packages. They found, long-term, the best bang for your buck is investing in health care, infrastructure and research. Airlines were one of the worst performers.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Will the federal government extend the extra COVID-19 unemployment benefits?

It’s still unclear. Congress and President Donald Trump are deciding whether to extend the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits workers are getting because of the pandemic. Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia believes the program should not be extended, and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the additional money is disincentivizing some workers from returning to their jobs. Democrats want to keep providing the money until January.

As states lift restrictions, are people going back to stores and restaurants?

States have relaxed their restrictions, and many of us have relaxed, too. Some people have started to make exceptions for visiting restaurants, if only for outdoor dining. Some are only going to places they trust are being extra cautious. But no one we’ve talked to has really gone back to normal. People just aren’t quite there yet.

Will surges in COVID-19 cases mean a return to lockdowns?

In many areas where businesses are reopening, cases of COVID-19 are trending upwards, causing some to ask if the lockdowns were lifted too soon, and if residents and businesses might have to go through it all again. So, how likely is another lockdown, of some sort? The answer depends on who you ask. Many local officials are now bullish about keeping businesses open to salvage their economies. Health experts, though, are concerned.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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