United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby is a pragmatic and shrewd leader, but an extended interview yesterday made me think he works for the Biden Administration instead of the shareholders and employees of United Airlines. Or was he already aware that the Biden Administration would announce today that the European travel ban will soon end?
United Airlines CEO Defends Biden Administration Ban On European Travel
Kirby was back on CBS Face The Nation and was asked by host Margaret Brennan about the European travel ban. He responded by fully defending the Biden Administration, despite the steep impact of an illogical European travel ban on United’s bottom line:
BRENNAN: When it comes to data and science, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former FDA commissioner, has argued that the Biden administration’s travel restrictions that they’ve kept in place on Europe, on India and China, other countries, they don’t really work. Have they given you a timeline on when those restrictions will be lifted?
KIRBY: They haven’t given us a timeline specifically, but they do talk to us a lot, and I think they’re just trying to take a cautious approach and really put safety first as they go through the crisis. And given the case rates in Europe and the US are similar in the high vaccination rates higher in Europe, actually. I’m hopeful that we’ll get those borders, particularly to Europe, open soon, but they’re following the data and the science. But we hope that- that as- as cases come down, that that’s something that will happen soon.
BRENNAN: Do you think that’s a political decision?
KIRBY: I really think that they’re just focused on trying to do the right thing here, and this is a lot of uncertainty around what it means, and I think they’re just focused on the right thing.
Kirby fawns over the Biden Administration on other topics too. Look, I get it. The federal government has greatly aided the U.S. airline industry during the pandemic and continues to provide subsidies that sustain it. The Biden Administration is in power now and has a great deal of influence over airline travel.
Kirby has become quite cozy with this White House, with recent White House meetings concerning both vaccine mandates and climate change. Again, I can see why Kirby wants to maintain a strong relationship with the Biden Administration and how much loyalty matters to those in power (and loyalty requirements were even worse in the Trump Administration, so this is not a partisan issue).
But I just cannot accept the logic behind the European travel ban. I don’t support Chinese or Indian travel bans either, but at least they are somewhat reciprocal. While Europe Union nations have opened its borders to U.S. travelers, exceeded the USA in vaccine progress, and now boasts lower case numbers, the doors remain closed for those wanting to travel to the USA.
The “safety” argument just does not hold up when other countries in areas of much higher risk are allowed in without the same restrictions. The European Union is singled out and no one can actually cogently explain why on a scientific or rational basis. Workers in Ireland and Germany are flying to Mexico to spend two weeks there so they can enter the United States. What a silly charade when case numbers in Mexico care far worse and the delta variant is in both places and the dominant strain in USA!
Kirby claims the Biden Administration is “doing the right thing” and “following the data and science” and “putting safety first” but cannot get specific and Brennan, unfortunately, did not push him.
What I’d like to see Kirby say instead, is something like this:
I understand the initial reasons that Europeans were blocked from traveling directly to the United States. But it’s time to change this. We will never eliminate all risk, but we greatly harm families longing to be reunited with loved ones and business on both sides of the Atlantic by continuing a ban when there are much more proportionate mechanisms in place like testing and vaccine requirements that could be required for these visitors and address legitimate safety concerns.
Or just stand by the letter he signed in July 2020 urging for the immediate re-opening of transatlantic travel between Europe and the Untied States.
Could it be that he knew today’s announcement that the ban would be lifted was coming?
As much as I love my increased upgrade chances when traveling to Europe due to fewer Europeans onboard, the continued travel restrictions are indefensible. That’s a horse I’ve beat dead on Live and Let’s Fly, but the fact that Kirby is now carrying water for the Biden Administration on this illogical, unscientific policy is really disappointing.
Hopefully Kirby did so because he knew today’s announcement that the ban will be lifted in November was coming…