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What Airlines Are Looking for on Election Day

Madhu Unnikrishnan
November 3rd, 2020 at 12:55 PM EST

Airline CEOs, not surprisingly, have been mum about whom they’re endorsing in today’s U.S. presidential election, but eyes are on Capitol Hill and what might happen in the lame-duck period between tomorrow and when the next is seated in early January.

The main issue for airlines is if Congress will debate and pass additional coronavirus aid and if that aid package will include an extension of the payroll support program. Airlines and their unions have been lobbying lawmakers to extend the program through March of next year. Before Congress adjourned for the election, the Senate had yet to consider the $2 trillion bill House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had championed, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) hinted that any future legislation would be considered during the lame-duck period. Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin talks, which collapsed last month, could re-start after the election.

But it remains an open question whether the Trump administration would re-start talks if President Trump should lose his bid for re-election. McConnell has signaled that the Senate would be unlikely to gift an incoming Democratic administration with the economic growth new fiscal stimulus would provide.

But the makeup of the Senate could change before the new Congress is sworn in. If Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly wins his election today he could be seated by the end of the month, as the contest between him and Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) is technically a special election to fill the rest of the late Senator John McCain’s term. If Kelly is seated, Democrats would control 48 of the 100 Senate seats.

Allegiant CEO Maurice Gallagher offered perhaps the most candid view of the election of any airline leader last week during the company’s third-quarter earnings call. The biggest downside if the Democrats should win the White House and control of Congress would be the “green movement,” he said. “We’re going to make it work,” regardless of who wins, he added.

“Elections matter, but there’s nothing pulling higher than support for a COVID relief stimulus package, and [a payroll support] extension will be an important component of any such package,” said American CEO Doug Parker.

This issue has been paramount for airline unions, which have said the industry — and the economy — will suffer if highly skilled airline workers permanently leave the industry. U.S. airlines began the process of furloughing more than 30,000 employees on Oct. 1 when the CARES Act’s payroll support expired.

As a practical matter, most airlines have pared back their flight schedules this week, as demand tends to drop off during presidential elections. And this year, with the pandemic and fears of civil unrest around the election, is different. Several airline leaders made a point of referring to slimmer schedules planned for this week.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian had a simple message for his employees on Tuesday: Vote and be respectful. “Our shared Delta values call on us to make our voices heard and be engaged members of our communities, and voting is a vital part of that responsibility,” Ed Bastian said in a memo to employees on Tuesday. “

Madhu Unnikrishnan
November 3rd, 2020 at 12:55 PM EST

Photo credit:  Wikimedia / Scrumshus

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