Christopher Elliott has naughty and nice list for travel companies during the pandemic. He sees some behaving as though “they think COVID-19 is a hoax.” That seems like an odd position to take considering their billions of dollars of losses. But what he’s saying is that airlines and hotel companies are making travel more comfortable or fun, that encourages travel, and that’s bad. And the self-styled consumer advocate glosses over a company that tried to steal customers’ money because they promise to make employees take vaccines.
JetBlue’s New Business Class: A Moral Abomination During A Pandemic?
Elliott leads off his list of ‘what the h*ell are they thinking’ with JetBlue’s decision to roll out a new business class for their Airbus A321LRs that will fly initially to London,
How could an airline roll out a product like this at a time when the CDC is telling people not to travel? And when hundreds of thousands of Americans are getting infected every day?
He thinks it’s awful that JetBlue is improving its travel experience rather than making it less comfortable to fly so that people travel less during the pandemic. Although he gives away the game, that his real beef isn’t with this seat it’s with the idea of business class and JetBlue moving away from a single cabin ideal where everyone is equal when he says “forget for a moment that JetBlue started with a promise to treat all passengers with dignity, eschewing the legacy airlines’ class system that many passengers found unfair.”
I’d say that Elliott longs for ‘communism in the skies’ except both Cubana and North Korea’s Air Koryo offers business class, too. Besides,
- JetBlue didn’t ‘just’ introduce business class, they did that in 2014, now they’re introducing a new seat for a new plane that will fly longer distances. (And they sold Even More Space extra legroom seats before then as well.)
- In offering business class on transatlantic flights they’re not really different than anyone else in the market, yet he singles them out for chastisement.
- They aren’t offering this new product today. Instead it’s expected to launch in June, when it’s a reasonable bet the U.S. may be seeing fewer than 10 infections per 100,000 people (and note this is actual infections, not merely confirmed positives).
- Elsewhere in the column Elliott says it’s fine to plan travel once you’ve been vaccinated (“we’re so close to getting the green light to travel again. Some of us have received our second doses and we’re already making plans”) and JetBlue’s new London flights won’t be operating for four months. So what’s even his beef here?
Ultimately what restrictions are placed on travel is a question for governments. The U.K., where JetBlue will fly these seats to, imposed restrictions on travel by Americans eight months ago. Essential workers continued to travel. Elliott dismisses travel as “flying long distances, hanging out in a sports bar, and attending a food and wine festival.” But it’s also making sure that energy continues to flow to households, that medical supplies get delivered, and human connections are maintained – following government guidelines for public health.
Elliott’s issue with JetBlue isn’t that they are flying to London, or that they are flying at all. It’s that they are introducing a new business class on a route where other carriers offer similar products. Any airline that deigns to offer more than one product to passengers is suspect, and he’s singling out JetBlue only because their announcement of a new product was most recent.
Amtrak Is Righteous For Honoring Employee Sick Time
Amtrak trains don’t refresh cabin air at the rate that planes do, and don’t feature the same level of filtration as planes yet they’re heroes of coronavirus in Elliott’s telling for allowing employees to take sick time to get vaccinated, and also if they… get vaccine side effects (i.e. sick). He doesn’t tell you that employees who get sick can take sick time at airlines, or that for instance American Airlines will work with employees to reschedule their shifts to take advantage of vaccine opportunities.
United Is Good Because Mandates Are Good
Christopher Elliott is ostensibly a consumer advocate and United Airlines was one of the original ‘bad actors’ refusing to refund money to customers for cancelled flights. They even redefined the meaning of a cancelled flight to only be a case where they’ve abandoned a route entirely to try to skirt the law.
Instead of condemning United’s behavior during Covid-19 here, Elliott lauds them because the airline has said they’ll require employees to be vaccinated.
- He doesn’t make any claims about whether someone being vaccinated reduces transmission. I believe that most of the prominent Covid-19 vaccines do, though the data is still coming in on how much.
- By the time vaccines are available enough that everyone could get one to meet this requirement, it’s likely that transmission will be suppressed enough so that a mandate doesn’t make a material difference. (We’ll see.)
Elliott doesn’t address any of these nuances – just ‘since vaccines are good, mandates are good’, consistent with his broader ideology. Except his cherry picking of facts to suit his priors runs right smack into his naughty list because, like JetBlue, United has been installing its new business class on planes during the pandemic. Would he excuse JetBlue’s new seats if they required everyone sitting in them to show proof of vaccination?
He keeps making weak arguments that attempt to use air travel as a vehicle for his claims about social inequality (even when the details don’t work, especially since loyalty programs give customers access to perks that would normally only be available to the wealthy) and telling readers to quit frequent flyer programs for years without correcting his errors or updating his facts.
So don’t listen to him when he tells you JetBlue bad, United good, and Amtrak represents an ideal. There may be defensible arguments for these positions, but Christopher Elliott can’t seem to offer any.
(HT: Jonathan W.)