Widespread flight cancellations. Excruciating waits for customer service. Unruly passengers.
And that was all before the holiday travel season.
Even in normal times, the days around Thanksgiving are a delicate period for the airlines. But this week is the industry’s biggest test since the pandemic began, as millions more Americans — emboldened by vaccinations and reluctant to spend another holiday alone — are expected to take to the skies than during last year’s holidays.
A lot is riding on the carriers’ ability to pull it off smoothly.
“For many people, this will be the first time they’ve gotten together with family, maybe in a year, year and a half, maybe longer, so it’s very significant,” said Kathleen Bangs, a former commercial pilot who is a spokeswoman for FlightAware, an aviation data provider. “If it goes poorly, that’s when people might rethink travel plans for Christmas. And that’s what the airlines don’t want.”
The Transportation Security Administration said it expected to screen about 20 million passengers at airports in the 10 days that began Friday, a figure approaching prepandemic levels. Two million passed through checkpoints on Saturday alone, about twice as many as on the Saturday before last Thanksgiving.
lengthy note to customers last month.
His apology came after Southwest canceled nearly 2,500 flights over a four-day stretch — nearly 18 percent of its scheduled flights, according to FlightAware — as a brief bout of bad weather and an equally short-lived air traffic control staffing shortage snowballed.
Weeks later, American Airlines suffered a similar collapse, canceling more than 2,300 flights in four days — nearly 23 percent of its schedule — after heavy winds slowed operations at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, its largest hub.
American and Southwest have said they are working to address the problems, offering bonuses to encourage employees to work throughout the holiday period, stepping up hiring and pruning ambitious flight plans.
Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants, a union representing roughly 50,000 flight attendants at 17 airlines, gave the carriers good marks for their preparations.
“First and foremost, we are getting demand back after the biggest crisis aviation has ever faced,” she said.
“I think there has been a lot of good planning,” she added. “And barring a major weather event, I think that the airlines are going to be able to handle the demand.”
Flight crews have had to contend with overwork and disruptive and belligerent passengers, leaving them drained and afraid for their safety.
Helene Albert, 54, a longtime flight attendant for American Airlines, said she took an 18-month leave by choice that was offered because of the pandemic. When she returned to work on Nov. 1 on domestic routes, she said, she saw a difference in passengers from when she began her leave.
“People are hostile,” she said. “They don’t know how to wear masks and they act shocked when I tell them we don’t have alcohol on our flights anymore.”
begun investigations into 991 episodes involving passenger misbehavior in 2021, more than in the last seven years combined. In some cases, the disruptions have forced flights to be delayed or even diverted — an additional strain on air traffic.
gathering storm systems were threatening to deliver gusty winds and rain that could interfere with flights, but for the most part, the weather is not expected to cause major disruptions.
“Overall, the news is pretty good in terms of the weather in general across the country cooperating with travel,” said Jon Porter, the chief meteorologist for AccuWeather. “We’re not dealing with any big storms across the country, and in many places the weather will be quite favorable for travel.”
Even so, AAA, the travel services organization, recommended that airline passengers arrive two hours ahead of departure for domestic flights and three hours ahead for international destinations during the Thanksgiving travel wave.
Some lawmakers warned that a Monday vaccination deadline for all federal employees could disrupt T.S.A. staffing at airports, resulting in long lines at security checkpoints, but the agency said those concerns were unfounded.
“The compliance rate is very high, and we do not anticipate any disruptions because of the vaccination requirements,” R. Carter Langston, a T.S.A. spokesman, said in a statement on Friday.
With many people able to do their jobs or classes remotely, some travelers left town early, front-running what are typically the busiest travel days before the holiday.
TripIt, a travel app that organizes itineraries, said 33 percent of holiday travelers booked Thanksgiving flights for last Friday and Saturday, according to its reservation data. (That number was slightly down from last year, when 35 percent of travelers left on the Friday and Saturday before Thanksgiving, and marginally higher than in 2019, when 30 percent of travelers did so, TripIt said.)
Among those taking advantage of the flexibility was Emilia Lam, 18, a student at New York University who traveled home to Houston on Saturday. She is doing her classes this week remotely, she said, and planned her early getaway to get ahead of the crush. “The flights are going to be way more crowded,” she said, as Thursday approaches.
Robert Chiarito and Maria Jimenez Moya contributed reporting.
Hotel flexibility will vary, so read the fine print
By now, most of the large American-run chains have reverted to their pre-Covid cancellation policies for reservations made before a certain date (that has come and gone), and for travel through a certain date (that has come and gone). But some companies are still being flexible: Hilton has always had generous cancellation policies, and Four Seasons has been consistently easy about changes and cancellations during the pandemic.
Travel-industry insiders also have noticed flexibility among independent hoteliers.
“We’ve felt that small, family-run luxury properties are actually more nimble than some of the big hotel chains,” said Louisa Gehring, the owner of Gehring Travel, an affiliate of Brownell, a Virtuoso luxury travel agency. “Rather than lay off all their employees or point to an overarching corporate cancellation policy, they’ve had flexibility to keep the teams on, work with clients on a case-by-case basis and really step up to the plate.”
Policies vary by property, she added, but even some of the more rigid ones now include exceptions for Covid.
One thing to watch for is the credits-versus-refunds flash point: Even in cases when a hotel won’t swallow a deposit or prepayment outright, will you get a cash refund or will you be asked to rebook? Last year, Greece and Italy both passed laws allowing hotels and other travel companies to issue credits, rather than cash refunds, for canceled bookings. Although vaccines, the eagerness to travel and pandemic fatigue may make the idea of a credit less odious than it seemed last spring, always ask about policy specifics, including blackout and expiration dates.
Realize that Paris won’t look exactly like the Paris you remember
The Palace of Versailles is open and President Emmanuel Macron is sipping espresso outside Parisian cafes, but nightclubs will remain closed even after France’s countrywide curfew ends in June. At restaurants and bars in Madrid, groups are capped at four people inside and six people outside. Germany and the Netherlands remain closed to American tourists.
“Clearly, we will not come back to ‘normal’ straight away, and travelers will have to be conscious of health measures and respect rules at the destination,” said Eduardo Santander, the executive director of the European Travel Commission, a Brussels-based nonprofit that represents the national tourism boards across the continent. “We all — destinations, businesses and guests — cannot let the guard down too soon both for our own health and for the safety of people around.”
In short, any trip to Europe this summer will come down to managing expectations.
“Save the ‘must check all the boxes’ trip to Europe for a bit later, once all new protocol kinks have smoothed out,” Ms. Gehring said. But you may still have an unforgettable experience regardless.
Airlines in the United States have started to cancel flights to Israel as the violence escalates.
United Airlines said it had canceled flights from Chicago and Newark to Tel Aviv on Tuesday and from San Francisco and Newark to Tel Aviv on Wednesday. Citing the unrest, the carrier said it would also waive change fees for customers booked on flights to or from Tel Aviv through May 25.
American Airlines said it had canceled one flight from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York to Tel Aviv on Wednesday and another making the return trip on Thursday. The airline said it would waive fees in some circumstances for customers with flights to Tel Aviv scheduled through May 25.
Delta Air Lines said it, too, had canceled one flight in each direction between Kennedy Airport and Tel Aviv on Wednesday. A spokesman said the airline was “monitoring the situation” and had not decided when flights would resume.
The airline issued a travel waiver on Tuesday for customers booked on flights to or from Tel Aviv between Tuesday and Thursday.
U.S. airlines have been bolstered by the return of customers eager to travel within the country or just outside its borders, but the nation’s largest carriers are still lamenting the loss of two particularly lucrative parts of the business: international and corporate travel. At least one of those could rebound this summer.
In an interview with The New York Times over the weekend, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said she expected the European Union to ease travel restrictions for vaccinated American tourists, a move that could let the airline industry cash in during the year’s busiest travel season.
“Long-haul international flying represents a significant opportunity for United,” Andrew Nocella, the chief commercial officer for United Airlines, told investors last week. “We have seen in recent weeks that immediately after a country provides access with proof of a vaccine, leisure demand returns to the level of 2019 quickly.”
American Airlines and United said this month that international travel remained about 80 percent lower than in 2019. They and other airlines expect strong demand for domestic flights this summer, and the restoration of trans-Atlantic travel could provide the industry a much-needed boost as it works to generate profits again.
director general of the International Air Transport Association, a global airline industry group, who said it could bode well for carriers elsewhere, too.
He said in a statement that coordination between the European Commission and the industry was essential “so that airlines can plan within the public health benchmarks and timelines that will enable unconditional travel for those vaccinated,” not just Americans but passengers from other countries as well.
“I found it very encouraging that there are signs that people are waking up from hibernation, buying new clothes and going out to restaurants,” said Beth Ann Bovino, U.S. chief economist at S&P Global. “I think people are feeling optimistic that the United States will win the war on the virus. And they have good reason to be hopeful.”
Many economists said the strong retail sales were likely to continue through the spring, even after the new stimulus payments are used up.
The gradual return to normal activities as business restrictions ease has in turn prompted employers to recall workers — and this time, to hold on to them.
The Labor Department reported on Thursday that the number of first-time claims for state unemployment benefits fell sharply last week, to about 613,000, the lowest level since the start of the pandemic. That was a decline of 153,000, the largest week-over-week decrease since the summer.
In addition, 132,000 new claims were filed for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federal program that covers freelancers, part-timers and others who do not routinely qualify for state benefits. That was a decline of 20,000 from the previous week.
“We’re gaining momentum here, which is just unquestionable,” said Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton.
There are also broader signs of a comeback.
After a devastating year, airlines are growing increasingly hopeful as travelers return. Over the past month, more than one million people were screened each day at federal airport checkpoints, according to the Transportation Security Administration, a signal that a sustained travel recovery is underway.
My husband and I are currently planning a trip to Ireland, Portugal and Italy for August and September. We are only reserving hotels with free cancellation policies and our airline tickets can be changed to a future date. Knowing that much of Europe is closed right now to United States citizens because of the virus, is there much hope that our plans will materialize, or are we wasting our time? What should I watch for? Kathy
Although there are some signs of life — Iceland is newly open to fully vaccinated travelers and Greece will reopen to vaccinated or virus-tested visitors next month — Europe, where case counts are rising in some parts and the vaccine rollout has been disappointingly slow, is still largely closed to Americans. Ireland is open to United States citizens with a combination of testing and quarantine, but Portugal and Italy, like most of the continent, for now remain off limits. Italy, in particular, was hard-hit by the virus in the early months of the pandemic; and in March, the spread of a contagious variant from Britain pushed the country back into another lockdown.
“This environment is so challenging because there is significant pressure for countries that rely on tourism to rebound, which counterbalances much slower vaccination rates in Europe,” said Fallon Lieberman, who runs the leisure-travel division of Skylark, a travel agency affiliated with the Virtuoso travel network. “So unfortunately, those two forces are at odds with one another.”
Your question, like many related to the pandemic, involves various degrees of risk. First, let’s look at the concrete risk: If you book now for late summer, how likely are you to lose money?
flexibility with seats beyond Basic Economy, and now, especially, it’s wise to book tickets that can be easily changed. Delta Air Lines has eliminated change and cancellation fees for all flights originating from North America, and Delta eCredits set to expire this year — including for new tickets purchased this year — can be used for travel through 2022. United Airlines has also permanently eliminated change fees.
Unlike a plane ticket, which can always be changed (either for free or for a fee), a nonrefundable hotel reservation is generally exactly that: a use-it-or-lose-it investment.
The good news: “Hotels in Europe — and around the world, really — are being quite flexible,” said Ms. Lieberman, who has helped hundreds of Skylark clients cancel and rebook last year’s felled Europe trips, many to this summer and beyond. “While this is a very challenging time, many suppliers are providing maximum flexibility.”
Cancellation policies vary by property, but many of the multinational companies have made it easy, and relatively risk-free, to plan ahead. Companies like Hilton and Four Seasons are allowing cancellations up to 24 hours before check-in. Hyatt is allowing fee-free cancellations up to 24 hours in advance for arrivals through July 31 (and it’s always possible that date will be extended). For points nerds, most of the big hotel chains allow most award nights to be canceled scot-free, with the points redeposited, within a day or two of the expected check-in.
More complicated than physical refunds, though, is the larger, metaphysical risk: How likely is it that this trip is actually going to happen? What forces can help predict whether the Europe trips we book today will actually materialize in August and September?
France and Italy have just been locked down again, interest in Europe is rising, aided, no doubt, by signs that President Biden could lift the ban on European visitors to the United States as early as next month, news of the possibility of European health passes, rumors that Spain and Britain could both restart international tourism in mid May, and more.
At Hopper, a travel-booking app that analyzes and predicts flight and hotel prices, bookings for Europe-bound summer 2021 travel surged 68 percent week-over-week between the last week of February and the first week of March. Searches for round-trip flights to Europe departing this summer increased a whopping 86 percent in the 30 days following February 22.
According to TripAdvisor data of hotel searches from the United States for this summer, five of the 10 most-searched European destinations were in Greece, but Rome — and Paris, for that matter — were also on the list.
To make sense of how traveler zeal will jibe with the realities of the pandemic, analysts and travel industry experts are eyeing several factors, including flight schedules.
According to PlaneStats, the aviation-data portal from Oliver Wyman, an international consulting firm, the number of Europe-bound flights scheduled to depart the United States this month is around 26 percent of the number that departed the United States for Europe in April 2019. Next month compared to May 2019, that figure is looking even higher so far: 35 percent. (April and May 2020, by contrast, both clocked in at 5 percent.) That’s lower than normal, but it’s still a drastic uptick from any other point during the pandemic. Although many will be connecting flights (Americans can still transit through Europe) or culminate in destinations like London (Americans can visit England, though multiple testing and quarantines are required), schedules still remain a key indicator.
Khalid Usman, a partner and aviation expert at Oliver Wyman. “What airlines don’t want to do is put out schedules where people are not going to be traveling.”
Pandemic Navigator, which simulates day-by-day immunity growth. “That’s good news for the domestic market, but in the context of international travel, we do have to realize that it’s not just about one country — it’s a country at the other end as well.”
Factoring in the spotty vaccine rollout across the pond, Mr. Usman said it’s reasonable to assume that Europe’s herd immunity will lag several months behind the United States. Over the next several months, he added, European countries will follow in Iceland’s footsteps and open individually, complete with their own regulations about vaccinations, testing and quarantines. To spur travel across the continent this summer, the European Union is considering adopting a vaccine certificate for its own residents and their families.
“It’s not going to be a binary open-or-shut,” Mr. Usman said. “Countries are going to start getting more selective about who they’re going to start letting in.”
Italy’s numbers — plus new lockdowns and growing Covid variants — seem to be stifling optimism; Hopper flight searches from the United States to Italy have remained relatively flat.
For now, Ms. Lieberman, of Skylark, has adopted a “beyond the boot” mind-set: “Our theory is that if you’re willing to go beyond the boot — meaning, Italy — there will be fabulous, desirable summer destinations for you to take advantage of.”
Portugal surged in January but has recently eased lockdown measures as infection rates have slowed. The country is now aiming for a 70 percent vaccination rate this summer.
American interest in Portugal is spiking in response. In the first week of March, following an announcement that Portugal could welcome tourists from Britain as soon as mid-May, Hopper searches on flights from the United States to Lisbon rose 63 percent. (That’s not far behind Athens, for which travel searches shot up 75 percent in the same time period.)
will next month start nonstop service between Boston and Reykjavik — and resume its Iceland service from New York City and Minneapolis.
“Unless demand spikes rapidly enough to outpace the increase in supply, flash sales can be found as airlines attempt to entice travelers to return amid piecemeal easings of travel restrictions,” said Mr. Damodaran. Icelandair, for example, is running sales on flights and packages through April 13.
And with prices for summer flights to Europe still relatively low in general — down by more than 10 percent from 2019, according to Hopper — experts see little downside in penciling in a trip.
“If you’re willing to take some risk, plan early and lock in your preferred accommodations and ideal itineraries,” Ms. Lieberman said. “But of course we caution you to be prepared to have to move deposits and dates if it comes to that.”
Around 50 groups have filed amicus briefs in a coming Supreme Court case pitting charities against the state of California in a fight over donation disclosures. The Capitol riot on Jan. 6 put a spotlight on corporations’ direct and indirect political donations; justices agreed on Jan. 8 to hear the case and arguments will take place later this month.
Business interests want to create a “broad expansion of dark money rights,” according to a new brief from 15 Democratic senators, referring to untraceable donations that are often routed via nonprofit groups. The court case is an influence campaign disguised as a technical legal fight, the senators said. The case pits California against a charity, the Koch-affiliated Americans for Prosperity Foundation, over private access to tax documents. The Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are among the trade groups supporting the foundation’s demand for anonymity.
Anonymous donors work like covert intelligence operations, the senators wrote. The donors give millions annually to “social welfare” groups that spend it in an effort to influence politics and policy. The senators pointed to congressional appropriations rules blocking disclosure efforts by the I.R.S. and S.E.C. over the past decade as evidence that the groups have swayed lawmakers behind the scenes. The case is the latest attempt “by powerful interests to both cement and obscure their influence over the public sphere,” the senators argued.
The federal government is with California, more or less, telling the justices in a brief that the nonprofits’ constitutional claim is wrong but that the case should be sent back to the lower courts for more analysis.
Get to know social tokens
As the “suits” finally get into Bitcoin, the crypto crowd has moved on to the next big thing: BitClout, a “polarizing” open-source crypto social network that monetizes influencers via personalized tokens that can be traded by users, essentially quantifying a person’s reputation.
BitClout’s recent launch has generated outrage because the company didn’t ask permission from people featured on the platform, instead launching with “reserved” currencies linked to celebrities like the Tesla founder Elon Musk, the pop star Katy Perry and about 15,000 others. Influencers can claim their coins, which requires buying in, but in the meantime fans can still buy and trade their tokens, BitClout’s white paper explains.
Silicon Valley bigwigs have backed BitClout, including Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Social Capital, Coinbase Ventures, Winklevoss Capital and the Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian. A crypto wallet on the platform reportedly holds more than $150 million worth of Bitcoin, thought mostly to have been raised from these A-listers.
The company’s founder goes by “DiamondHands,” a reference to investors who steadfastly hold speculative assets, popularized during the meme-stock frenzy.His true identity is an open secret among crypto insiders; signs point to Nader al-Naji, a former Google software engineer who has not denied the claim. Brandon Curtis of the exchange Radar Relay recently sent a cease and desist letter to Mr. al-Naji, protesting the commercialization of his persona without permission, and his counsel confirmed to DealBook that his profile was removed after that letter was sent.
“BitClout is trying to create ownership through code instead of law” but may find itself “throttled,” said Michael Heller, a Columbia law professor. “People don’t much like strangers messing with their reputations,” he added, and the “right of publicity” lets them police who can profit off their clout.
On March 11, Delta Air Lines dedicated a building at its Atlanta headquarters to Andrew Young, the civil rights leader and former mayor. At the ceremony, Mr. Young spoke of the restrictive voting rights bill that Republicans were rushing through the Georgia state legislature. Then, after the speeches, Mr. Young’s daughter, Andrea, a prominent activist herself, cornered Delta’s chief executive, Ed Bastian.
“I told him how important it was to oppose this law,” she said.
For Mr. Bastian, it was an early warning that the issue of voting rights might soon ensnare Delta in another national dispute. Over the past five years, corporations have taken political stands like never before, often in response to the extreme policies of former President Donald J. Trump.
After Mr. Trump’s equivocating response to the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, Ken Frazier, the Black chief executive of Merck, resigned from a presidential advisory group, prompting dozens of other top executives to distance themselves from the president. Last year, after the killing of George Floyd, hundreds of companies expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.
But for corporations, the dispute over voting rights is different. An issue that both political parties see as a priority is not easily addressed with statements of solidarity and donations. Taking a stand on voting rights legislation thrusts companies into partisan politics and pits them against Republicans who have proven willing to raise taxes and enact onerous regulations on companies that cross them politically.
Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star game from Atlanta in protest, and more than 100 other companies spoke out in defense of voting rights.
The groundswell of support suggests that the Black executives’ clarion call will have an impact in the months ahead, as Republican lawmakers in more than 40 states advance restrictive voting laws. But already, the backlash has been swift, with Mr. Trump calling for boycotts of companies opposing such laws, and Georgia lawmakers voting for new taxes on Delta.
eliminate a tax break for Delta, costing the company $50 million.
Yet as 2021 began and Mr. Bastian focused on his company’s recovery from the pandemic, an even more partisan issue loomed.
In February, civil rights activists began reaching out to Delta, flagging what they saw as problematic provisions in early drafts of the bill, including a ban on Sunday voting, and asking the company to use its clout and lobbying muscle to sway the debate.
Delta’s government affairs team shared some of those concerns, but decided to work behind the scenes, rather than go public. It was a calculated choice intended to avoid upsetting Republican lawmakers.
In early March, Delta lobbyists pushed David Ralston, the Republican head of the Georgia house, and aides to Gov. Brian Kemp to remove some far-reaching provisions in the bill.
followed the same script, refraining from criticizing the bill.
That passive approach infuriated activists. In mid-March, protesters staged a “die in” at Coca-Cola’s museum. Bishop Reginald Jackson, an influential Atlanta pastor, took to the streets with a bullhorn and called for a boycott of Coca-Cola. Days later, activists massed at the Delta terminal at the Atlanta airport and called on Mr. Bastian to use his clout to “kill the bill.” Still, Mr. Bastian declined to say anything publicly.
Two weeks to the day after Delta dedicated its building to Mr. Young, the law was passed. Some of the most restrictive provisions had been removed, but the law limits ballot access and makes it a crime to give water to people waiting in line to vote.
The fight in Georgia appeared to be over. Days after the law was passed though, a group of powerful Black executives frustrated by the results sprang into action. Soon, Atlanta companies were drawn back into the fight, and the controversy had spread to other corporations around the country.
spoke with the media. “There is no middle ground here,” Mr. Chenault told The Times. “You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.”
“This was unprecedented,” Mr. Lewis said. “The African-American business community has never coalesced around a nonbusiness issue and issued a call to action to the broader corporate community.”
Mr. Bastian had been unable to sleep on Tuesday night after his call with Mr. Chenault, according to two people familiar with the matter. He had also been receiving a stream of emails about the law from Black Delta employees, who make up 21 percent of the company’s work force. Eventually, Mr. Bastian came to the conclusion that it was deeply problematic, the two people said.
accused Mr. Bastian of spreading “the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.” And Republicans in the Georgia house voted to strip Delta of a tax break, just as they did three years ago. “You don’t feed a dog that bites your hand,” said Mr. Ralston, the house speaker.
Senator Marco Rubio of Florida posted a video in which he called Delta and Coca-Cola “woke corporate hypocrites” and Mr. Trump joined the calls for a boycott of companies speaking out against the voting laws.
Companies that had taken a more cautious approach weren’t targeted the same way. UPS and Home Depot, big Atlanta employers, also faced early calls to oppose the Georgia law, but instead made unspecific commitments to voting rights.
declared their opposition to proposed voting legislation in that state. And on Friday, more than 170 companies signed a statement calling on elected officials around the country to refrain from enacting legislation that makes it harder for people to vote.
It was messy, but to many activists, it was progress. “Companies don’t exist in a vacuum,” said Stacey Abrams, who has worked for years to get out the Black vote in Georgia. “It’s going to take a national response by corporations to stop what happened in Georgia from happening in other states.”
We’re a Georgia-based company. That’s going to be certainly our starting point. I don’t see us having the wherewithal to understand every nuance in every other state. I think there will be energy directed at the federal level. If you go back historically, federal oversight of changing the voting processes in the states has been an important process to make sure that things move forward, not backward.
Do you see a double standard between the way in which companies are engaging with the issue of voting rights and how they’ve engaged with other issues, be it L.G.B.T. bills or climate change, or immigration, in the past?
It’s not that the corporate community was not involved. We were perhaps not as public as some people wish we had been, or perhaps would have made more difference.
You’ve got this tension of getting companies involved — the tension of dragging, or having companies pulled, into politics. When do I get involved? You can’t possibly be involved in every issue. So getting clear on what are the most important things to your company is what we go back to.
We’re very clear on the importance of diversity and inclusion to the Coca-Cola Company, which aspires to be a brand for everyone, and particularly in the South, given its history. We stand for diversity and inclusion in Georgia above all else, and that’s why we came to the table on this issue. We tried to affect change. It didn’t work. But we have not given up by any stretch of the imagination.
You had lots of senior roles before becoming C.E.O. What is the biggest difference as C.E.O.?
When you become C.E.O. you think you’ve got this organizational pyramid and you’ve come at the apex, and now everyone works for you. But then you find out there’s another pyramid, but it’s upside down, and you’re the one person at the bottom.
There’s a huge number of stakeholders who want to tell you what to do, and many of them don’t work in the business. So you deal with the board, the media, the investors, the analysts, the NGOs, the government. You have this whole galaxy of people you need to deal with in a way that was never true for any of the other jobs. If you haven’t gotten really clear on what are the few things that I want to tell people about and prioritize things this, it can be quite destabilizing.
For two weeks, Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola had been under pressure from activists and Black executives who wanted the companies to publicly oppose a new law in Georgia that makes it harder for people to vote. On Wednesday, six days after the law was passed, both companies stated their “crystal clear” opposition to it.
Now Republicans are mad at the companies for speaking out. Hours after the companies made their statements, Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, took aim at Ed Bastian, the chief executive of Delta, accusing him of spreading “the same false attacks being repeated by partisan activists.” And Republicans in the Georgia state legislature floated the idea of increasing taxes on Delta as retribution.
On Thursday, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida posted a video in which he called Delta and Coca-Cola “woke corporate hypocrites.” Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi said Coca-Cola was “caving to the ‘woke’ left.” And Stephen Miller, an adviser to former President Donald J. Trump, said on Twitter, “Unelected, multinational corporations are now openly attacking sovereign U.S. states & the right of their citizens to secure their own elections. This is a corporate ambush on Democracy.”
It was another illustration of just how fraught it is for big companies to wade in to partisan politics, where any support for the left draws the ire of the right, and vice versa.
Other big Georgia companies have managed to stay on the sidelines. UPS, which is based in Atlanta, also refrained from criticizing the new law before it was passed. On Thursday, the company said it “believes that voting laws and legislation should make it easier, not harder, for Americans to exercise their right to vote.” It made no mention of the law.