The Worst Travel Writer In America Says Who’s Been Naughty And Nice During Covid

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?

new jetblue mint cabin
Credit: JetBlue

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?

For years Christopher Elliott has been writing columns that get their facts wrong. His pieces haven’t gotten any better as the years have gone on.

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.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary, your restraint is very professional.
    I guess Elliott takes Southwest when he flies to Europe. When is his article about the unfairness of A Boarding Passes coming out?

  2. If travel writer Christopher Elliott “longs for communism in the skies.” I think he would be delighted when United Airlines and American Airlines offer a “Comrade class” passenger experience to compete with the Cubana and North Korea’s Air Koryo business class.

  3. The poor should have the right to vacation and air travel. Just make the 1% pay for it. They are the elite ff members.

  4. I’ve never been a fan of Elliott and this latest sounds like more of the same BS from him. Good rundown of counterpoints Gary

  5. Great article.

    Elliott’s description of travel as “flying long distances, hanging out in a sports bar, and attending a food and wine festival” reminds me of this great story by Peggy Noonan:

    “Once I wrote a radio script in which I led into a story by saying, “This Sunday morning you’ll probably be home reading the papers or out at brunch with friends, but Joe Smith will be. . . ” A middle-aged editor listened as he walked by the studio and approached me afterward. “Peggy, a small point but maybe not so insignificant: This Sunday morning most Americans will be at church.”

    He was, of course, correct. But I forgot. I wasn’t at church on Sunday mornings, I was in a restaurant on Columbus Avenue eating mushroom omelets and reading the Arts and Leisure section of The New York Times.”

    The difference between Elliott and Noonan is that Noonan is capable of self-reflection.

  6. I believe that Elliott’s heart is in the right place but his arguments are about as accurate and focused as Rudy Giuliani’s.

  7. This one’s not surprising: someone who had really bad judgment on multiple issues before Covid is likely to have really bad judgment about Covid.

    It’s also worth noting that some people achieve success in their professions despite their actual abilities. It’s called luck.

  8. Perhaps WEEE should recognize that while travel may have an individual value it does not have a social value. As a society WEEE need to make like barnacles and stay in one place.

  9. Never heard of him. Think he’s a bit crazy. Some of us are hoping for transatlantic flight this summer. I’m looking at Late August or September for Greece. I still have credit with UA after cancelling last year’s trip. But if Jet Blue has a flight like that to Athens, I’ll definitely take a look. If UA doesn’t open their Polaris clubs, it’s silly to pay Polaris prices. Even the plane I wanted to take is just a 767 so no Polaris seats. I so hope that changes.

  10. While I disaxgree with Chris Elliogtt’s attitude toward loyalty programs, he does provide a real service for consumers who have been wronged by travel providers, including providing executive contact names that can actually get things done for customers.

  11. @Brutus, I’m pretty sure you and I were the only people to get that reference. We might be the only people to ever watch the show. Not limiting that last comment to the visitors to this site.

  12. Was astonished a while back to see a letter to the editor at the WaPo saying C Elliott was wonderful. Pretty sure the author must have been Mrs Elliott (his mother). His column is a total waste of space and his answers to questions section is what we used to call in school a masterclass in statement of the obvious. I read the travel section of the WaPo every week and have done so for years. I can honestly say that I have never, not one single time, learned anything of use from Elliott.

  13. I follow Elliot for his reasonable consumer advice in many areas not just travel. I also contribute to him and his newsletter. He fights for those who have been abused by the travel industry.

  14. Perfect place to remember the old adage “Those who live in glass houses, shouldn’t throw stones” Gary.

    Chris and his team provide real service for people who are ill-treated by the travel industry. While you may disagree with him on editorial positions, this does not make Chris the worst travel writer in America. And you—a travel writer who routinely employs clickbait headlines—have no right to make such a pronouncement.

  15. Elliott has always had a hardcore socialist attitude about FF programs. He begs people to avoid them, but they have provided me more than two decades of Business/First upgraded or free flights. (And I still have more than 3 million FF miles to use now that I am retired.) I expect Elliott to demand that I sell my Lexus and instead ride the bus, in the cause of “equality.”

  16. “I’d say that Elliott longs for ‘communism in the skies’ except both Cubana and North Korea’s Air Koryo offers business class, too.”

    You’re either ignorant of what’s going on in those countries or pretty abusive in your line of reasoning. Clearly, 95+ percent of the population in those two countries isn’t in the position to fly at all. The distinction between eco and business only matters for the autocrats, their helpers and cronies.

  17. I read these posts and it confirms why I canceled all social media accounts. Everyone has an opinion and so it goes. . .

Comments are closed.