How the U.S. Presidential Election Could Change Travel

Each candidate's stance on key travel industry issues

a brown-skinned woman and a man wearing maskgs at a voting booth
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As Americans head out to the polls today, travel may not be at the top of their minds when deciding whom to vote for. It’s also not something either presidential candidate is campaigning on, thanks to the pandemic, social justice issues, and other more pressing matters. But it’s undeniable that the travel industry has been decimated due to COVID-19, and other issues like border control, climate change, diplomacy, and the economy are all related to travel in some way.

Most of us miss traveling dearly and a second term of Donald Trump’s presidency or Joe Biden’s first term as president might bring big differences as to how the industry develops over the next four years—although both candidates are certainly pro-travel and want to bring the industry back when it's safe to do so (but of course, there are disagreements about when that is). While neither candidate has directly addressed their stance on certain travel issues, we can look to what they’ve said and done in the past. Here are a few key points to consider for each candidate with regard to the changes they may bring if elected.

Aviation

The airline industry is obviously suffering right now and both candidates want to bring it back to its former glory. Trump famously owned an airline, Trump Shuttle, from 1989 to 1992 before it went bankrupt. Both candidates seem sympathetic to the airline industry, with another bailout likely—it’s just unclear on whether it will be part of a larger bailout package, and when the bailout will happen. If Biden wins, a larger stimulus package with a portion carved out for the airline industry is more likely, since that’s what Nancy Pelosi has been pushing for. If Trump wins, he could pass something like the so-called skinny bailout his administration has been trying to pass, which focuses on direct payments to the aviation industry.

Mask mandates on airlines is another hot-button issue and Biden has said he will push for them to be legally required on all flights, as well as other transportations like trains and buses. The Trump administration has avoided making any sweeping, nationwide mask mandates—or other nationwide Covid-19 safety protocols. In fact, the Department of Transportation has declined to require masks on commercial transportation.

Both Trump and Biden have made comments in the past calling certain major city airports “Third World airports,” although neither have commented recently on La Guardia Airport’s (a frequent target) ongoing $8 billion renovation. Biden’s infrastructure plan includes a section on “make[ing] our airports the best in the world,” saying he will double funding for airports and launch a grant program for major airport renovation projects. Trump hasn’t released any plans for airports and it’s likely that either candidate will wait until air traffic resumes its pre-pandemic capacities before focusing on this issue.

Rail

Biden is a known railroad supporter, and his infrastructure plan includes a portion on “Spark[ing] the second great railroad revolution,” in which he discusses high-speed trains, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and travel flexibility. He promises to invest in high-speed trains, support freight projects, and electrify the rail system. Obviously, this is a major project that would take longer than four or eight years to accomplish, but it’s easy enough to get the ball rolling.

Trump has not addressed railroads during this campaign cycle, although he did mention bringing high-speed trains to the U.S. in 2016, but has done nothing so far to accomplish that.

Cruise

The cruise industry has also been devastated by the pandemic. While Biden hasn’t directly addressed the cruise industry, Trump seems invested in restarting it in North America, evidenced by the recent expiration of a no-sail order by the CDC on Oct. 31. The CDC had been extending the ban since March 14 for a few months at a time, but on Oct. 1 they finally announced they were only extending it by one month, and now, they have indeed let it expire. In its place, on Nov. 1 they released a “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order for Cruise Ships,” which outlines a phased return to cruising in the U.S., dependent on the country and industry meeting certain conditions.

Border Closures

Obviously, border reopenings will have a major impact on travel. So far, the Trump Administration is said to be creating a travel corridor between New York City and London, and one in Germany is also reportedly in the works. It’s likely that Biden will take a science-based approach when looking at when to reopen borders to international travels, but neither campaign has explicitly said when they will rescind the current travel bans.

Trump is of course known for closing borders for other reasons. There is his border wall with Mexico and his ban on travelers from certain Muslim countries in 2017. It’s fair to assume that under Biden, international visitors trying to get a visa will have an easier time.

Diplomacy: Cuba and China Policies

The two candidates have very different diplomacy ideals, with Trump having shown that he has a propensity for befriending former U.S. enemies like Russia and North Korea. With regard to China, Biden is probably going to put more effort into repairing diplomatic relationships there, while under Trump things could continue to deteriorate.

Travel to Cuba is probably one of the most glaring policy differences between the candidates. Trump recently tightened restrictions on Americans hoping to travel to Cuba, which includes limiting the hotels they can stay in and what they can bring back. Conversely, Biden will likely return to the Obama-era policies, which saw a loosening of restrictions between the two countries, allowing increased air traffic, American tourists, and U.S. investment in the form of hotels, cruising, and other hospitality businesses.

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