Big 3 airlines reassure travel advisors about safety of flying

American, like Delta and United, has strengthened its cleaning protocols between flights. Source: American Airlines

Sales chiefs at United, American and Delta sought to assure travel advisors attending a Travel Weekly webinar that their clients would be safe in flight. 

“We know that you can never take all the risk out, but we are going to layer as many practices as we can so that we can minimize the risk of [Covid-19] transmission,” said Jake Cefolia, United’s senior vice president of worldwide sales, during a July 20 webinar co-hosted by Travel Weekly sister publications TravelAge West and TravelPulse. 

“This is never going to be about a competition,” added Bob Somers, Delta’s senior vice president of global sales. “The airlines should be standing together, and we are on this.”

Executives detailed the health and sanitation measures they are taking, which include spraying electrostatic disinfectant between flights, requiring health declarations by all customers at check-in and making masks mandatory.

Aircraft are equipped with hospital-grade HEPA filters. Delta has partnered with the Mayo Clinic for its health safety program. American is working with Vanderbilt University and Purell. United is partnering with the Cleveland Clinic and Clorox. 

In addition, United and American have each rolled out touchless bag check technology at most of their domestic stations. 

In one major area of difference, Delta is blocking 40% of seats in economy cabins and 50% of seats in first class through at least Sept. 30. 

“It is CDC-driven, and the medical community is on board with that,” Somers said of the policy, referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Delta Vacations also is adhering to the safety protocols in place at the airline, explained Delta Vacations president Jenny Ho.

That means that transport partners, too, must commit to blocking seats, and those partners, along with hotels, must commit to Delta protocols on wearing masks, cleaning and staff health screenings. 

Somers and American chief customer officer Alison Taylor said that customers overwhelmingly comply with mask requirements, and that those who don’t are not allowed to board flights. Delta had put 87 customers on its no-fly list as of July 20 for lack of adherence to mask policies, while American had seven customers on its list.

The airlines also provided details on their current route networks and on additional steps they are taking to help agents navigate the current environment. 

American is now running the largest network among the Big 3, having ramped up capacity much more aggressively than Delta and United. Kyle Mabry, AA’s global head of leisure, groups and midmarket sales, said the airline served 7,000 domestic city pairs in July, including more than 50 that other airlines dropped in the past year. 

United served 229 destinations in July, Cefolia said, adding that what demand there is now is almost entirely leisure. United is currently the only airline serving Australia and Israel from the U.S., and it is set to resume Tahiti service in August. 

Cefolia directed travel advisors to the insight tool at United’s Jetstream agents portal, encouraging them to share information on where their clients would like to fly.

“We will build back our network in a way that supports you and your clients,” he said. 

The speakers also stressed that their agent portals offer timely information on travel restrictions. Ho said that travel advisors should check carefully on behalf of clients to see which destinations are requiring Covid-19 tests as a condition of entry or avoiding quarantine. 

“It changes quickly,” she said.


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