Eye on Travel

Radio Guest List — New York — June 27, 2020

This week on Eye on Travel, Peter Greenberg looks at how Amtrak is dealing with Covid-19 and a huge drop in passenger numbers, with Chief Operating Officer Stephen Gardner. Who is wearing masks on planes? Who isn’t? Airline pilot Gregory Morris with a report on what can — and can’t be done. Kayak’s CEO Steve Hafner on who is booking what destination, when, and why, with some surprises. And Tariro Mzezewa, New York Times Contributor, returns to continue the conversation of the intersection of Black Lives Matter and the travel experience — and how groups like Black Travel Alliance are working with travel companies to acknowledge and increase diversity. And the latest in the continuing battle for passengers to get their refunds on cancelled trips. All this and more on this week’s broadcast of Eye on Travel.


Click here to listen to the show streaming live from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 27, 2020

Have a travel question? Then ask Peter. E-mail him at peter@petergreenberg.com, or tweet your questions to @petersgreenberg (include #AskPeter).


Stephen Gardner, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Operating and Commercial Officer of Amtrak, speaks about Amtrak turning 50 and the continued need for rail travel in the United States. He thinks there’s a lot of opportunity to grow the connections between cities. These are difficult times for the travel industry, and Amtrak is no different. But he says there is still and will continue to be demand for rail travel. Amtrak has been facing huge losses in revenue and passengers. It went down from 100,000 passengers a day to 3,500 a day at the peak of the pandemic. Now, it’s inching back up with 15,000 passengers a day, but not nearly close to where it typically is with its passenger load at this time of year. Amtrak has lowered some of its service but hopes to restore routes and frequency when customer demand rises again. The Northeast Corridor continues to be its best performing part of the country. Amtrak’s route structure is a result of its funding and direction from Congress. In response to keeping those who are using Amtrak safe, it has implemented new procedures. Trains are only being booked to 50% of load capacity. There’s increased and amplified cleaning techniques and frequency. It’s also working on removing touch points by making more services, such as purchasing tickets and ordering food available on its app, so you only have to touch your device.



Patrick Gibbels, General Secretary of the Association of Passenger Rights Advocates (APRA) in Brussels, explains the rights of passengers who have booked with European airlines that are not giving refunds. Many airlines are trying to only give vouchers instead of refunds, which is against regulations. He has encouraged passengers who can accept a voucher to do so because the airlines are struggling, but the APRA understands that not everyone travels enough or can afford to not get their money back. APRA is a good resource if you’ve bought tickets through European carriers to stay updated and to help get your money back.



Greg Morris, Commercial Airline Pilot, believes that most people are following CDC guidelines, but there are always those who do not want to follow policies or regulations. If people don’t comply with airline regulations, there are varying degrees of repercussions for passengers. Most people are happy to be getting to travel to their destinations, but there are always going to be some who don’t comply. The severity of consequence depends on the airline. Frontier Airlines has said it will divert aircraft if a passenger refuses to wear a mask, whereas United and American have said it will ban passengers for a duration of time.



Steve Hafner, CEO of Kayak, shares how near the beginning of the pandemic, it saw an 80% drop in site traffic. A week ago, it saw domestic travel at only 50% down from this time last year. It’s still 75% down when it comes to international travel. As the United States starts to see coronavirus spikes, the search numbers have started to dip again. He dives into what booking behavior he is seeing and where the travel trends are leading. For the first time in Kayak’s history, there’s a 50% increase in rental car searches. People want to drive somewhere that’s within 4 hours and where it’s relatively distant from crowded areas. On an international scale, he’s seeing small increases in people looking to Mexico and the Caribbean as those locations begin to open. He also believes that we may be moving away from the time of deep, discounted airfares because of the pandemic. Instead of just trying to get people on seats because the airlines had to fly the plane anyway, he says that now the service has been trimmed to cut out non-profitable routes.



Dave Chester, Payments Specialist, CNP, EMV, delves into the continuing issue of BookIt.com’s business failing at the beginning of the coronavirus. Countless customers were charged without receiving services. Many have tried to dispute the charges, but banks are reluctant to give refunds for the service because the customer knowingly booked it. What should be a straightforward situation has become convoluted with no entities wanting to issue refunds. Chester says it’s time for banks to step up and protect their card holders. Services were not rendered, meaning it’s the bank’s responsibility to refund its customers.



Tariro Mzezewa, New York Times Contributor, discusses how Black people have been traveling for a long time but travel companies haven’t caught up. Convention and Visitor Bureaus typically don’t feature Black people, and don’t acknowledge Black travelers. Marketing is not the fix to everything, but she thinks this is a good start. At the end of the day, it comes down to the money, and people of color make up a large part of the revenue stream. One thing she’s observed in recent years is the increase of Black-owned businesses in the travel sector. There’s also the pivot of Black-owned businesses shifting focus to their own communities. An example of this is how safaris now cater to locals instead of only foreigners. There has been a bit of pushback, because previously they had only marketed to White foreigners, but there is a real effort now to bring in more locals to the experience. She also speaks about the Black Travel Alliance, a group that has come together to reach out to travel companies and ask about diversity on their teams, what it looks like moving forward, and offering help to increase diversity in the right ways. She explains that it’s not about pointing out what’s wrong, but rather it’s about acknowledging what can be done better and how to go in the right direction together.



Charles Leocha, Travel Writer, Author & President of Travelers United, predicts that airlines will be pushing for government regulations, which will give them the authority to enforce safety precautions like wearing face masks. He has pushed for more observers and oversight for evacuation times. He is also working towards legislation that allows families to sit together if you have a child that is 13 years old or younger. Right now, he says that airlines are ignoring this and not working towards making sure families are placed together. Then, there is the continued issue of airlines keeping your money if they have misplaced and delayed your baggage. Currently, airlines are only legally required to refund baggage fees if they lose the luggage altogether.