The Business of Travel


The Official Blog of the Global Business Travel Association

Andrew Meehan
Andrew Meehan
Andrew Meehan's Blog

Wisconsin BTA Hosts Travel Talk Roundtable with Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

*The following is a guest blog post by Ann Brennan, executive vice president of GBTA – Wisconsin*

This past August, the Global Business Travel Association (GBTA) and the Wisconsin Business Travel Association hosted our first ever, “Travel Talk Roundtable” with U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Senator Johnson’s Committee has jurisdiction over the Department of Homeland Security, the principal department responsible for immigration, counterterrorism, and border security. Many of the issues before Senator Johnson’s Committee are key priorities for the business travel community. We were joined by GBTA Executive Director Mike McCormick and Vice President for Government Relations Andrew Meehan.

Wisconsin BTA members shared the business travel community’s concerns, including cost containment, traveler security, duty of care, and air traffic control reform.

Senator Johnson delivered remarks on a broad range of issues including aviation security and the importance of effective engagement on Capitol Hill. He also noted the change in threats to aviation security and the challenges posed by ISIS.  Senator Johnson believes that the best thing Congress can do is to provide a secure homeland and grow the economy.

The group also discussed a bill passed in late July that would increase the cap on the Passenger Facility Charge from $4.50 to $8.50. The Passenger Facility Charge is a fee that consumers pay when they purchase airlines tickets. GBTA has expressed concern that taxes and fees currently comprise nearly 25% of the cost of airline tickets. The proposed increase would result in a $3.2 billion tax hike on travelers.

WI BTA members also raised the issue of air traffic control reform. GBTA supports a House bill (H.R. 2997)  that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and move air traffic control operations out of the federal government and into a not-for-profit entity. Senator Johnson expressed an understanding of the cost and efficiency concerns with the status quo.

Wisconsin BTA looks forward to inviting our elected officials to our annual Travel Conference in January.


ACU Says ATC Reform Isn’t Privatization, but That’s Probably a Good Thing

When reading the American Conservative Union’s (ACU) recent op-ed in The Hill, “'Conservative' air traffic control bill fails to privatize industry”, I couldn’t decide if ACU’s opposition is a good thing. ACU’s support hinges on its “Seven Principles of Privatization,” essentially a guide for lawmakers to privatize for the sake of privatizing. Broad-brush principles seldom make for good policy, and as much as we would like to boil complex problems down to seven words or principles, it simply doesn’t work. But the ACU makes a good point – the 21st Century AIRR Act is not privatization. It’s a detailed prescription for a larger goal: improving our nation’s air traffic control.

Earlier this year, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA), introduced the 21st Century AIRR Act. The bill is a landmark reform that would reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and move operations of air traffic control into a not-for-profit entity governed equally by a board of directors that represents virtually every stakeholder in commercial aviation (with the exception of general aviation, who would receive two seats on the board). The Global Business Travel Association supports the 21st Century AIRR Act, and as COO Mike McCormick said, it represents “a rare opportunity to lessen the burden on both the business traveler and the American taxpayer by improving efficiency and saving money.” (Source)

Government oversight, in this case by Congress and the Department of Transportation (DOT), is beneficial when it comes to our nation’s air traffic control. For example, when it comes to noise issues, government oversight is an important advocate for the taxpayer. Under the 21st Century AIRR Act, the designated not-for-profit entity would be required to conduct extensive community outreach and submit air traffic changes to the FAA for approval. Additionally, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) would still apply, requiring the FAA to conduct extensive community outreach and provide notice to communities impacted by noise. Because there are not one but two opportunities for public involvement, the 21st Century AIRR Act makes the process even more transparent.

Government oversight is also important when it comes to the user fee. The 21st Century AIRR Act would allow the board to establish user fees to cover the costs of air traffic control (except on general aviation who, in addition to a tax cut, will not have to pay for air traffic control services). The DOT would have to approve any change to a user fee, unless it is decreased, after a 30-day public comment period in the Federal Register. This is an important check to prevent the board from unnecessary expenditures that may result in increased costs passed down to the consumer. It is important to note that today the taxpayer does not have a voice when it comes to taxes that are used to pay for operations of our nation’s air traffic control. We simply pay the 7.5% tax on our airline tickets with little say into how the money is being used.

I agree with the ACU that the 21st Century AIRR Act does not meet the privatization test. Nor should it. It was never the intention of the bill to privatize the national airspace. The national airspace is a public trust, one that belongs to the American public. That should be the test. Does a policy serve the American public? Yes. The 21st Century AIRR Act would provide increased efficiency to air traffic control operations as well as billion dollar savings to the taxpayer, and does so through good governance and increased transparency. For that reason, among others, GBTA supports the 21st Century AIRR Act.

GBTA's Legislative Summit Addresses Passenger Bill of Rights

GBTA Executive Director and COO Mike McCormick kicked off the 15th Annual GBTA Legislative Summit, an event that brings more than 100 travel professionals to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers to share opinions on key issues. McCormick discussed the importance of passenger rights in light of recent events with United Airlines and American Airlines.

In discussing the issues regarding passenger rights, McCormick pointed to GBTA’ Rules of the Road, introduced last year at the GBTA Legislative Summit. GBTA developed these Rules of the Road in order to make the global travel systems safer, more secure, and more reliable and a better place to conduct and facilitate business.

Prior to the event, GBTA conducted a lightning poll survey of a group of its buyer members:

  • 64 percent felt that the “Passenger Bill of Rights” does not adequately protect the business traveler.
  • 69 percent felt that the federal government, meaning the Department of Transportation or the Federal Trade Commission should conduct a review of the Contracts of Carriage for the airlines.
  • 69 percent also felt that the compensation cap for “involuntary bumping” should be increased.

McCormick then opened the discussion up to members who discussed the pros and cons of industry consolidation, the importance of customer service and whether the industry would prefer self-regulation over government regulations. The audience applauded the idea that the entire flying experience could be much more efficient for both the traveler and the travel provider.

GBTA Legislative Symposium Tackles FAA Reauthorization and ATC Reform

Holly Woodruff Lyons, Deputy General Counsel, House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Staff Director, Subcommittee on Aviation, discussed committee efforts regarding the FAA Reauthorization Bill and modernizing infrastructure at the 15th Annual Legislative Summit, an event that brings more than 100 travel professionals to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers to share opinions on key issues.

Lyons told attendees that that main priority of the FAA Reauthorization bill was air traffic control reform, explaining that the committee is up against many barriers such as budget constraints, reductions in force, lack of order in Congress and the fact that there has been no stand-alone travel appropriations bill since 2006. However, she also said that it was possible to get the bill off the floor by August - a committee goal.

When talking about NextGen, she said that the committee hasn’t seen real game-changing results. She said that there have been pockets of success but overall no real progress on this.

Lyons stated that Chairman Shuster feels the only way for this to be a success is for this to be out of government control. Chairman Shuster has proposed the creation of a not-for-profit that would be responsible for air traffic control. Lyons outlined several aspects of the non-for-profit which included, being independent of the federal government, the creation of a nominated corporate board and all monies and revenue would be reinvested back into the governing entity to name a few of the parameters.

Stay tuned for a post in the near future on GBTA’s position on this issue.

FAA's Winsome Lenfert Talks PFCs and Airport Infrastructure at GBTA Legislative Summit

Winsome Lenfert, Deputy Associate Administrator for Airports, FAA spoke about passenger facility charges (PFCs) and funding for airport infrastructure at the 15th Annual Legislative Summit, an event that brings more than 100 travel professionals to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers to share opinions on key issues.

She told attendees that she has visited hundreds of airports across the country both in her role at the FAA and as business traveler and pilot herself. “When you have seen one airport, you have seen only one airport,” she told the crowd as she explained that all airports are different in their own way.  However, the commonalities of all airports are safety, security and upholding passenger needs.

Lenfert explained how the FAA is funded and authorized by Congress to keep the airways safe.  She explained that the FAA has lived through 23 short-term extensions, but it’s current authority expires on September 30, 2017.  Ideally, Congress will pass a long-term reauthorization before that date.  She told attendees how disruptive shut downs are to the FAA.

Lenfert said the passenger facilities charges are directed at enhancing safety, security, modernization of the system and the enhancement of competition.

While discussing PFCs, she explained how the money raised from those fees go to specific airport projections with airport terminals being the main recipient of funding dollars.

She also talked about the financial savings that have come from NextGen technology. She told attendees that the projected savings to airlines and passengers in 2030 will be $160 billion creating increased efficiencies for both airlines and their passengers.

CBP Previews Future of Biometric Exit at GBTA Legislative Summit

John Wagner, Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner, Office of Field Operations for Customs and Border Protection provided an overview of the new biometric exit model at the 15th Annual GBTA Legislative Summit, an event that brings more than 100 travel professionals to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers to share opinions on key issues.

Wagner told attendees that the agency is deploying new technologies to verify travelers’ identities when arriving and departing the United States. He discussed several of those programs and technologies such as Global Entry.  

He also told attendees about the Atlanta Biometric Exit Experiment, which is in partnership with Delta Airlines. The Experiment is to see if CBP’s systems can compare images of travelers departing the United States via facial recognition against images previously provided from a passport or ID.

Wagner said the experiment was going well and hadn’t added to boarding times either. The camera is in the boarding area and only takes a couple of seconds to take the photo. Taking a picture is an easy process and one which is less imposing than providing fingerprints.

He concluded with ideas and concepts that might be borne from this program making it so much easier and more efficient for travelers to get through the airport system while still being able to maintain the highest level of security. The future looks bright for biometrics.

DHS' Steve Yonkers Updates GBTA Legislative Summit Attendees on Real ID

Steve Yonkers, Director of Identity and Credentialing, Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Policy, Screening Coordination Office spoke about REAL ID issues at the 15th Annual GBTA Legislative Summit, an event that brings more than 100 travel professionals to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers to share opinions on key issues.

Yonkers provided background on REAL ID, which was passed by Congress in 2005, and enacted the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation. He said having a secure driver’s license and identification documents are vital components of national security. Yonkers explained to attendees that REAL ID will establish minimum standards for security.

It will only apply to entering a nuclear power plant, accessing Federal facilities and military bases and boarding regulated commercial aircraft.

Yonkers stressed that this does not create a national ID or database and that currently 26 states are in compliance.

GBTA will have a state-by-state update coming to the blog soon.

TSA Talks What's Next for PreCheck at GBTA Legislative Summit

Simone Davis, Executive DHS Liaison Officer, Transportation Security Administration spoke about TSA PreCheck at the 15th Annual GBTA Legislative Summit, an event that brings more than 100 travel professionals to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers to share opinions on key issues.

Davis discussed the intelligence driven risk-based security system with attendees. She stated that the majority of passengers are low risk so having them sign up for PreCheck allows TSA to know more about an individual passenger in order for them to move along more efficiently.

“The more info we have about a passenger, the easier it is to access risk.”

While discussing some of the program’s successes, Davis told attendees that nearly 97 percent of TSA PreCheck passengers wait 5 minutes or less in line at security. She stated that they are excited to have 30 airlines participating which equals about 95 percent of all air trips at 180+ airports. The program also now has 10.4 million participants.

She told attendees to expect non-U.S. based carriers to be joining in Q2. When asked what was next for PreCheck, Davis answered that they are hoping to expand engagement and loyalty programs; they are exploring new enrollment options and centers; they are hoping to increase airlines participation reaching more air travelers; and, that this summer they will be rolling out an enrollment center pop up tour.

Previous GBTA research has shown business travelers enrolled in TSA PreCheck report a significantly better air travel experience than their peers who have not.

Senator Klobuchar Highlights Importance of Travel & Tourism at GBTA Legislative Summit

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a strong supporter of the business travel industry spoke to a crowded room late Tuesday at the 15th Annual GBTA Legislative Summit, an event that brings more than 100 travel professionals to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers to share opinions on key issues.

Senator Klobuchar discussed how important tourism is to the United States. She complimented our attendees for their work and dedication on visa reform. She is concerned with the safety of our country but also wants to be mindful of the economic impact of the anti-immigrant talk as it will affect tourism. She said she continues to encourage her colleagues to think about the economic side of such rhetoric.

She also talked about how proud she is of the work that went into Brand USA, including its reauthorization extending until 2020. Brand USA’s mission is to encourage increased international visitation to the United States and to grow America’s share of the global travel market.

She also discussed the importance of infrastructure, the FAA reauthorization bill and the Cuba travel market.

She concluded with a brief Q & A session with GBTA members before joining GBTA's Executive Director Mike McCormick for a Facebook Live interview where she talked about the pending government shutdown, her priorities when it comes to infrastructure improvement and the FAA Reauthorization.

Update on the “Travel Ban”

On March 6, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order called “Executive Order Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry to the United States.” The White House issued the order largely in response to court challenges made against another Executive Order signed on January 27.

As we noted in an earlier blog post, the effective date of the travel ban was March 16. However, following the release of the March 6 Executive Order, several law suits were filed regarding the President’s authority and Constitutional questions surrounding the Executive Order.

Two federal district courts (Hawaii and Maryland) have imposed temporary holds on implementation of the March 6 Executive Order. Both considered similar Constitutional questions as well as the President’s authority regarding immigration law. Both courts did note that statements made by the President during the campaign regarding a “Muslim ban” call into question the purpose of the March 6 Executive Order.

The Trump Administration has stated that it will appeal both decisions. Recent reports indicate that the Administration will file an appeal in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the Maryland federal court ruling. Historically, the Fourth Circuit has ruled in favor of the federal government on issues relating to security. This past Sunday, the Hawaii court denied a request made by the Trump Administration to narrow the scope of the temporary hold, opening the door for appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

What does this mean for travelers?
Both orders prohibit the federal government from carrying out the March 6 Executive Order, and it is likely that the Administration will pursue these efforts in the courts rather than issue another Executive Order. However, the Trump Administration is still moving ahead on other initiatives that may affect travel such as border security and enhanced vetting.

In response to the January 27 Executive Order, the Department of Homeland Security released two guidance documents on immigration enforcement and benefits, and border security. The past month, the White House also published a memorandum on enhanced vetting. Section 2 includes the following:

Sec. 2.  Enhanced Vetting Protocols and Procedures for Visas and Other Immigration Benefits.  The Secretary of State and the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Attorney General, shall, as permitted by law, implement protocols and procedures as soon as practicable that in their judgment will enhance the screening and vetting of applications for visas and all other immigration benefits, so as to increase the safety and security of the American people.  These additional protocols and procedures should focus on:

(a) preventing the entry into the United States of foreign nationals who may aid, support, or commit violent, criminal, or terrorist acts; and

(b) ensuring the proper collection of all information necessary to rigorously evaluate all grounds of inadmissibility or deportability, or grounds for the denial of other immigration benefits.

This past week, Reuters published a series of diplomatic cables that the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, sent to consular offices which shed some insight into how the State Department is implementing the President’s Executive Order.

The cables instruct consular officers to:

  • “[R]emember that all visa decisions are national security decisions” and encourages consular officers to take as much time as is necessary to allay all security concerns.
  • Requires Consular Chiefs to convene the post’s law enforcement and intelligence community partners to develop “a list of criteria identifying sets of post applicant populations warranting increased scrutiny.” Once those population sets are identified, “the interviewing consular officer should consider sending a discretionary Donkey Security Advisory Opinion (SAO) request.” SAOs require an in depth looks into an applicant’s past that go back about 15 years. They typically take longer to process, 13 to 16 weeks.
  • Review an applicant’s social media history if that applicant may have a connection to ISIS or was in a part of Iraq that was controlled by ISIS.
  • Require SAOs for every visa applicant applying with a passport from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.

The guidance did also noted that,

These are preliminary measures. Additional screening measures will be introduced based on the conclusions of the interagency working groups mandated by the E.O, acting in accordance with applicable court orders.

It is possible that this guidance and other steps taken by the Administration will increase visa application processing times for those applicants who are subject to more in depth review. According to a draft internal DHS memo published by the Associated Press entitled, Citizenship Likely an Unreliable Indicator of Terrorist Threat to the United States, “None of the seven countries account for more than 7 percent of the U.S, visas granted in their region—the Middle East and North Africa or Sub-Saharan Africa—in Fiscal Year 2015…” The report references the earlier January 27 Executive order, but it does indicate that the overall impact on travel as a result of the March 6 order may be minimal. Additional resources will be needed to ensure that these reviews and other enhanced vetting measures do not unnecessarily affect travel.

GBTA will continue to monitor these developments and provide updates. GBTA is also working to assess the impact these measures will have on global business travel and the economy.