CEOs of major commercial airlines testified before the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee last Wednesday about their efforts to bring air travel back to full capacity in the wake of the historic crisis the industry faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The airline industry faced a massive business shortage after millions of flights were canceled in early 2020 when the pandemic first erupted. According to business analysts, the industry suffered a drop of more than 95% in its business and financial losses totaling nearly $ 35 billion.
The airline industry received $ 54 billion in federal stimulus funds during the pandemic. Part of Congress’ record financial support for Wall Street and other companies organized under the CARES Act was its massive payroll support program, which paid companies to keep their workers on staff.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the [federal bailout] saved the airline industry, which Congress and the administration have recognized as critical infrastructure as essential to the economy as it is unique, ”American Airlines CEO Doug Parker told the committee. Other CEOs, union officials and executives have spoken equally positively of the financial bailouts their industry has benefited from.
With the remaining restrictions on social distancing lifted, vacation travel is expected to increase this year. AAA predicts 109 million Americans will travel this holiday season, 90% of 2019 levels. Washington post recently noted “the travel industry just had a big Thanksgiving rebound … More than 2.4 million people viewed on Sunday after Thanksgiving hit highest daily count since pandemic began, figures show of the TSA “.
This occurs despite the rapid increase in the surge of winter, made infinitely worse by the Omicron variant. In a public address Tuesday afternoon, President Biden rejected any new lockdowns of businesses and schools and even urged Americans not to cancel their Christmas travel plans. This will create the conditions for a massive public health disaster in the days and weeks to come, where airports will become a major vector of transmission. Indeed, just hours after Biden’s speech, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 288,000 new cases, the second-highest daily total since the start of the pandemic.
But the main concern of the Trade Committee was not to avoid a public health catastrophe but to ensure the profitability of the airlines. According to CNBC, the congressional hearing was called to discuss “problems with recruiting, 5G, fuel availability, the myriad of fees and vaccine mandates for the industry, although it was convened to assess the industry’s bailout, the most important “.
The industry faces a critical labor shortage as workers increasingly resist unsafe working conditions and overwork. A growing number of airline workers are fighting directly against their employers, demanding better workforces, wages and protection at work.
In early November, American Airlines reported more than 460 canceled flights due to “staff shortages that resulted in travel disruptions for tens of thousands of people,” according to CNBC. The publication noted that the shortages “exacerbate routine problems, such as bad weather” and disrupted more than 16% of its major flights.
A representative of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) told the industry publication Paddle with your own Kanoo that worker morale was “at an all-time low in recent memory” earlier this month. The official said that “the Omicron variant and other possible future developments in the event of a pandemic” created significant tensions among staff.
Maria Cantwell, Democratic chair of the Senate Trade Committee, sent a letter to airline CEOs over the summer, complaining that the challenges of staff shortages “were defective and defective. the spirit of the [Payroll Support Program], which was to allow airlines to weather the pandemic and keep employees on the payroll so the industry was able to capture a rebound in demand. “
This is a critical issue for the interests of large corporations, which hope to capitalize on efforts to present the holiday season as safe for travel. United Airlines alone expects at least 420,000 customers a day at its terminals at Christmas, compared to 400,000 at Thanksgiving, according to information sources.
Nicholas Calio, chairman of the Airlines for America lobby group, highlighted the economic role played by the airline industry in October. “The full reopening of… travel is… critical to reviving economies around the world” in time for the holidays, he said.
In their testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee, airline CEOs sought to capitalize even more on the Biden administration’s willingness to keep businesses open. To that end, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly even falsely claimed that masks were not needed on planes, in response to a question from Mississippi Republican Roger Wicker, stating “it’s very clear that masks add little or nothing to the air. cabin environment… it’s very safe, very high quality compared to any other indoor environment. US CEO Doug Parker responded to these comments by stating “I agree.”
The Southwest CEO’s bragging was undermined days later when it was revealed on Friday that he had tested positive for COVID-19. Kelly, who had received three injections, “was showing mild symptoms” but “was approaching a full recovery,” according to airline spokespersons.
Following this public relations failure, Kelly and Parker have released statements affirming their support for the current Biden administration’s hiding policy, which is slated to end next year.
“We’ve always been told it’s safer than being in the general public,” said a Southwest flight attendant. World Socialist Website on Kelly’s claims. “However, my understanding is that the filters need to be maintained in order to get this quality air.”
Southwest flight attendants wrote to the WSWS to share stories about their employer’s efforts to gas them after forcing them to don chemically toxic company outfits, which in some cases led workers to develop autoimmune disorders which can seriously compromise them in the case of Infection by covid19.
The publication Daily science interviewed professors Zhe Peng of the Cooperative Research Institute for Environmental Sciences and Jose-Luis Jimenez of the University of Colorado Boulder in April regarding the safety of removing masks indoors. “It is important to understand that there is not a single level of CO2 at which a person can assume that a shared indoor space is ‘safe'” to unmask, notes Professor Peng.
AFA President Sara Nelson, who was present at the Senate hearing and seated next to the group of CEOs testifying before Congress, said nothing in response to Kelly’s efforts to further endanger the public . Instead, the AFA representative focused her comments on praising the bailout of the industry through the CARES Act.
Sito Pantoja, vice-president of the International Association of Machinists, rejoiced Forbes in July on the reopening of the economy. “[Payroll protection] also allowed airlines to prepare as soon as possible. … All you have to do is take a picture of what the airlines looked like a year ago and what they look like now. All these airports, all these businesses, all these small stores are thriving, ”said the head of IAM. “And everyone knows, no matter how the airlines operate, this is the way the economy works,” he added.