Industry Waits to See on Biden’s Infrastructure Plan


The business travel industry for the most part is taking a wait-and-see approach to President Joe Biden’s plan, announced March 31, to spend about $2.3 trillion on infrastructure improvements in the United States. Some of that spending, according to the White House, is planned for travel infrastructure, including commercial airports and Amtrak.

Neither the Global Business Travel Association, the U.S. Travel Association nor the American Hotel & Lodging Association as of Friday had taken a public stance on the plan, at least for now. The plan, not yet legislation, calls on Congress to invest $25 billion in commercial airports, including terminal renovations and funding for transit to and from airports. It also calls for $80 billion for Amtrak, including an expansion of its route map and investment particularly in Northeast Corridor rail infrastructure.

While Congress hasn’t yet introduced legislation reflective of Biden’s plan, there are signs that passing a bill could be a contentious process. Democrats have an avenue to pass a bill without Republican support, but have no margin of error to do so. It’s not clear that all or any of Biden’s priorities will be included in the final bill, if Congress is able to craft one, but some of those planks could directly affect business travel.

Airports

The Airports Council International-North America, which says it represents about 300 commercial airports in the United States and Canada and the authorities that own and operate them, said it supported Biden’s plan, citing its pledged $25 billion in airport infrastructure improvements. 

“This plan would help the industry continue to focus on safe and efficient air travel by supporting terminal renovations and multimodal connections that would provide affordable access for passengers and workers,” ACI-NA president and CEO Kevin Burke said in a statement, noting the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on airport revenue. Many commercial airports are funded in part by passenger facility charges on airline tickets, a revenue stream decimated by the sharp drop-off in air travel. The association estimates airports “will face at

least $40 billion in losses through March 2022,” and has advocated for more flexibility to raise PFCs, current capped by federal law at $4.50 per flight, a number established in 2000.

“On top of that, airport infrastructure has long been underfunded, creating a backlog of $115 billion worth of necessary projects,” Burke continued. 

Biden’s plan doesn’t include specific airport infrastructure improvements. Those details will be hashed out in the coming months during the legislative process. But ACI-NA last month published a report that uses “a combination of public and private data to determine project-level infrastructure needs, concerns and priorities.”

While there’s no guarantee any particular project will be included in the final legislation, much less that it would pass and become law, the ACI-NA report includes dozens of potential initiatives that it said are needed at U.S. airports. Some examples:

  • The replacement of Newark Liberty International Airport’s 20-year-old AirTrain rail connection and the construction of a similar AirTrain at LaGuardia Airport, at a cost of $2.05 billion each
  • The $5.5 billion Landside Access Modernization Program at Los Angeles International Airport, an initiative to reduce traffic congestion around the airport that includes parking and drop-off improvements as well as the construction of a 2.25-mile elevated rail connection
  • The construction of a new passenger terminal at John Glenn Columbus International Airport, with a price tag of $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion
  • The expansion of Concourse A at Nashville International Airport by 10 gates, at a cost of $620 million, and extending one of the airport’s runways to enable nonstop service to Asia, at a cost of $500 million
  • Replacing the passenger terminal at Hollywood Burbank Airport, which was built in 1930 and which “does not meet current established [Federal Aviation Administration] guidelines for objects located in the Runway Safety Area,” according to the report, at a cost of $1.2 billion

Rail Service

Amtrak responded to the announcement of Biden’s plan by releasing a map of new proposed service should it receive the infrastructure funding with dozens of new destinations, including Columbus, Nashville and Las Vegas, among many others. 

Calling the would-be destinations a “bold vision,” Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn added in a statement that “Amtrak must rebuild and improve the Northeast Corridor and our National Network and expand our service to more of America. The NEC’s many major tunnels and bridges—most of which are over a century old—must be replaced and upgraded to avoid devastating consequences for our transportation network and the country.”

Still, Congress over the years has been anything but aggressive in funding Amtrak, although the rail service did receive more than $1 billion under the 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, better known  as the CARES Act. Given Congress’ willingness over the years to limit the growth of Amtrak’s federal subsidies, it’s questionable whether Biden’s plan and the planned expansion will pass legislative muster. 

Will it Pass?

The Democrats theoretically could pass Biden’s plan, or a version of it, though Congress without any Republican support, much like they did the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Covid-19 relief act. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) last week told CNN she wants the House version of the bill “largely complete” by July 4, there are signs, though, that passing a infrastructure bill could be a heavier political lift than was the Covid relief plan. 

For one, while Democrats largely—but not unanimously—cheered the plan, Republicans were hardly enthusiastic, particularly about the size of the plan, the scope of what the Democrats consider “infrastructure” and Biden’s plan to raise primarily corporate taxes to pay for it. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters on April 5 that the plan is “something we’re not going to do,” citing the plan’s size and tax hikes, but added that Republicans could support a plan that was “much more modest.”

An infrastructure bill would need the approval of at least 10 Republicans in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. Without Republican support in the Senate, the 48 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them (Maine’s Angus King and Vermont’s Bernie Sanders) could pass a plan through the Senate’s budget reconciliation process with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaking vote. This was the process used to pass the Covid-19 relief bill, and the Senate parliamentarian last week determined that a similar route could be pursued for an infrastructure bill.

That path, though, would require no defectors among Democrats. Sen. Joe Manchin (W.V.), for one, already has said he opposes raising the corporate tax rate as high as Biden proposed to pay for the plan.

As such, whatever final form the Biden plan assumes—if it survives—the path Congress takes to funding travel-related infrastructure improvement isn’t likely to be a smooth one. 



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US Travel supports President Biden’s American Rescue Plan


American economic recovery is contingent on a robust recovery within the travel industry, which is why it will continue to need substantial relief for travel industry businesses

  • President Biden’s American Rescue Plan lays out much-needed relief that can’t come soon enough
  • The travel industry lost millions of jobs last year, accounting for nearly 40% of all jobs lost
  • U.S. Travel is grateful to Congress and the administration for their focus on combating the virus and providing relief to America’s hardest-hit industries

U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow issued the following statement in support of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package known as the American Rescue Plan:

“President Biden’s plan lays out much-needed relief that can’t come soon enough, and we’re encouraged by the momentum in Congress to advance this crucial package. Accelerating the distribution of vaccines is the key to restarting travel and jumpstarting the broader American economy, and we are highly supportive of the robust federal leadership role to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

“We are also very encouraged by the measures to provide additional grants and loans to small businesses in the hardest-hit industries, which include travel. The Paycheck Protection Program is set to expire at the end of the month, but the economic pain of the pandemic will linger far beyond that point. Extending the program’s application deadline until December 31 and allowing for a third draw on loans will be vital to ensuring struggling travel industry businesses can maintain operations and keep workers on payrolls.

“The travel industry lost millions of jobs last year, accounting for nearly 40% of all jobs lost. A broader American economic recovery is contingent on a robust recovery within the travel industry, which is why we will continue to need substantial relief for travel industry businesses.

“U.S. Travel is grateful to Congress and the administration for their focus on combating the virus and providing relief to America’s hardest-hit industries. We look forward to continuing to work with the federal government on additional recovery and stimulus measures to shorten the recovery period and restore American jobs as quickly as possible.”



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San Diego Family to Reunite After Biden’s Travel Ban Reversal – NBC 7 San Diego


The last few years have been tough and confusing for many families separated by the Trump administration’s travel ban on Muslim majority countries.

Now, with President Biden’s reversal of the policy, a San Diego family has received promising news that they should be able to see their relative in a matter of weeks.

San Diegan Negar Sadegholvad has been separated from her husband Kourosh Sepahpour, an Iranian citizen for three years. They share a son Borna, almost 4 years-old, who has seen his dad only a handful of times when they travel to Iran.

Sadegholvad has been measuring her life lately in the moments missed. The couple met at a wedding in Iran and began dating for two years before they got married. In that time, they were able to travel using visas to both countries.

“When I was 8 months pregnant, the first travel ban hit,” said Sadegholvad.

The family had plans to start life as a family of three in the U.S. Sepahpour planned to leave his job running a prominent dairy farm in Iran, to begin anew in the states. But the week of his interview to start the Green Card process, the Trump administration implemented the travel ban. Sepahpour was able to be there for the birth of his son, but has never been able to come back.

“It ended up turning our plans and our world completely upside down,” said Sadegholvad. “You are somehow almost like a second class citizen. You can’t do what all the other citizens are doing because of the country that your parents grew up in. It’s more than discrimination. It’s just so offensive.”

Ultimately, Sepahpour Green Card application was paused and the family struggled to get clear answers, but she had to have one for her son.

“He actually knows like on election day, I told him if Biden gets elected, your daddy can come here. So he knows,” said Sadegholvad.

She believes Biden’s travel ban reversal, prompted the embassy and the state department to contact her and pick up where things left off regarding her husband’s application process.

“I’m happy. I’m grateful that his green card will be ready soon right. But my son has been separated from his father for three years and the emotional and psychological scars will not be reversed through a policy,” said Sadegholvad.

She hopes her own scars will heal too, so she can trust again, the country she calls home.

Tom Wong, an immigration policy expert told NBC 7, the State Department is reviewing the applications of those denied by the travel bans. But during the pandemic, the limited capacity at embassies and consulates and in some cases people having to start from scratch means it could be some time before people see things moving again.

Wong added, there will be plenty more waiting and obstacles ahead for families trying to resume their visa and Green Card applications.





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Travel Industry Reacts to President Biden’s New Executive Orders


The travel industry is responding to the latest pandemic-related executive orders issued by the White House, including President Joe Biden’s mask mandate that will require face-coverings to be worn in national parks and on airplanes as well as a controversial new requirement that U.S.-bound international travelers self-quarantine upon arrival.

The U.S. Travel Association commended Biden for making masks a requirement and lifting the travel ban from certain Muslim-majority countries but appears hesitant about new restrictions on inbound travel.

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“We welcome the president’s focus on policies that will encourage safe travel and help restore the millions of U.S. travel jobs that were lost last year,” U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement on Friday. “The CDC’s inbound testing requirement is the key to reopening international travel and it adds another important layer of safety. If the testing requirement is going to work on a global scale, it has to be flexible and reflect where testing resources are available and where they’re not. The executive order would allow for flexibility if it’s needed.”

“We also strongly support the president’s mask mandate for interstate travel, which is in line with the industry’s health and safety guidance and consistent with what countless travel businesses are already doing to protect travelers and workers,” he added. “In particular, the repeal of the travel ban from certain Muslim-majority countries is the right move. The CDC testing requirement for international travelers should also pave the way to ease other travel restrictions, including those on the U.K., the E.U., and Brazil in the near term.”

However, U.S. Travel raised concerns over the administration’s quarantine requirement, calling it “unnecessary.”

“The executive order on travel also leaves many important questions unanswered. We believe a mandatory quarantine requirement for international travelers could be extremely difficult to enforce—and unnecessary in light of required testing and the many other protections now in place. In the domestic environment, where there aren’t defined ports of entry for travelers, mandatory testing and other requirements are also impractical and could divert scarce public health resources away from other priorities,” said Dow. “We look forward to working with the Biden administration to develop realistic and effective risk-based policies, and to educate travelers on additional recommendations, to help continue the safe reopening of travel.”

Ryan Doncsecz of Bethlehem, Pennyslvania-based VIP Vacations Inc believes that “the new CDC ‘guidelines’ will be the ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’ for so many small business owners across our country” and urges those in the travel industry to make their voices heard to their local representatives and senators.

Airlines for America (A4A)—which includes members Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, Southwest Airlines and United Airlines, among others—mirrored the travel industry as a whole in its response, applauding Biden’s mask mandate but expressing concern over often hard-to-enforce quarantine requirements.

“Airlines for America (A4A) welcomes President Biden’s dedication to supporting the U.S. airline industry and appreciate his leadership on policies that promote restoring travel in a way that prioritizes the safety and wellbeing of all passengers and employees,” said A4A President and CEO Nicholas E. Calio in a statement issued Friday. “We appreciate the Biden Administration’s decision to implement a federal face-covering mandate for all domestic modes of public transportation, including airports and commercial aircraft. The safety and wellbeing of passengers and employees are always the top priority of U.S. airlines. We recognize that face coverings are a critical measure in our multi-layered approach to protecting the traveling public, which is why U.S. airlines have been vigorously enforcing face-covering requirements since April 2020. We welcome the federal mandate as an additional layer of support, which will strengthen our flight crews’ ability to enforce face-covering requirements for the duration of the pandemic.”

“U.S. airlines have been strong advocates for a national testing standard set by the federal government and appreciate that the executive order moves our country forward on a framework for testing,” Calio added. “We remain hopeful that this announcement will be followed by a recognition that testing can be used to safely resume travel without quarantines, which are difficult to enforce and often prove ineffective. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the Administration to implement programs and policies that can be relied upon to defeat this virus, restore economic growth and enable the safe and responsible lifting of travel restrictions and quarantines.”





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Travel Industry Applauds Biden’s Proposed $1.9 Trillion Stimulus


The U.S. Travel Association is praising President-elect Joe Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan.

The stimulus package proposed on Thursday calls for investing $20 billion in a national vaccination program and allocating $15 billion to develop a new grant program for small business owners separate from the existing Paycheck Protection Program.

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The proposal also calls for a $35 billion investment in some state, local, tribal and non-profit financing programs that offer low-interest loans and provide venture capital to entrepreneurs.

“Accelerating the distribution of vaccines is the key to getting travel back to normal, and we applaud President-elect Biden’s emphasis on a robust federal leadership role to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow said in a statement issued Thursday. “Further, we are encouraged by the measures to provide additional grants and loans to small businesses in the hardest-hit industries, which include travel. The Paycheck Protection Program is set to expire in March, but the economic hardships of the pandemic will persist, so it is important that struggling businesses continue to receive aid to maintain operations and keep workers on payrolls.”

Dow went on to acknowledge that restoring travel will be paramount to the economy’s recovery.

“Prior to the pandemic, travel jobs existed in every congressional district. Travel will play a vital role in America’s economic recovery in the months ahead, but businesses will need this lifeline to survive until regular travel can fully resume,” he added.

“We are grateful to President-elect Biden for his focus on combating the virus and providing relief to America’s hard-hit industries, and we look forward to working with the new administration on additional recovery and stimulus measures.”





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