ASTA Tells Biden to Mandate Masks on Planes, Continue Resumption of Cruising

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Just before the holidays, Zane Kerby, president and CEO of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA), sent a letter to President-Elect Joe Biden’s transition team, sharing the “industry’s views on critical policy issues that will soon be under the purview” of his administration.

In the letter, Kerby said, “While we understand that many industries are facing critical challenges right now,” more than 9 in 10 travel agencies’ business income is down at least 75 percent compared to 2019; despite the relief programs created by CARES Act, close to 64 percent of travel agencies surveyed have laid off at least half their staff; and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, small travel arrangement and reservation services shed nearly 39 percent of their workers between February and November—more than five times as many as bigger firms in the same sector and the second-largest negative differential between large and small employers in the country.

“Beyond relief legislation, there are numerous regulatory actions that can also be taken in support of the travel industry as a whole and the travel agency sector in particular,” Kerby added. Some of those actions were brought up in a call between ASTA and media last week, including the harmonization of international and state travel restrictions.

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In addition, ASTA is calling for the mandating of mask-wearing on commercial flights and preserving the "Conditional Sailing Order" for cruise ships by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While most airlines have required masks for all employees and passengers, their authority to enforce compliance rests with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). ASTA is asking the Biden Administration to “direct the CDC to use its authority to require masks on commercial flights and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to require mask usage as a part of the airport security screening process.”

As for cruising, the CDC replaced its “No Sail Order” on October 31 with a “Framework for Conditional Sail Order,” which, according to our sister publication Travel Agentsets forth a path to the eventual restart of cruises from U.S. ports. The rules and procedures encompass everything from extensive testing of crew already onboard ships; arrangements with ports and local health authorities; testing of new crew and passengers boarding; securing (by cruise lines) of local housing for isolating any people who test positive and don’t need hospital treatment, as well as their close contacts; simulated voyages with no passengers and more.

In the letter, Kerby requested that Biden “direct the CDC to maintain the current framework for a phased resumption of cruise ship operations.”

Kerby added: “While it will take several years for our part of the travel industry to return to health, taken together with the urgently needed additional relief legislation from Congress, we believe the steps outlined above will help speed the recovery and put travel agencies in a position to serve the traveling public once the economy rebounds.

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