This Week in Travel: 5G Chaos?

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Keeping you and your groups up to speed with weekly travel updates.

The Buzz

“The new 5G-C bandwidth can interfere with some planes’ altimeters and other equipment, potentially compromising aircraft safety. Only 45% of commercial aircraft have altimeters that won’t be affected by 5G transmissions. That means the majority of passenger and cargo aircraft are at risk.”

-Henry Harteveldt, Travel Industry Analyst

Will 5G Cause Travel Chaos?

This week, the travel industry stopped talking about Covid-19 and started wondering if the advent of 5G in the US would cause chaos for air traffic.

On Tuesday, Jan. 18, executives at Airlines for America—including the CEOs of Delta, JetBlue, American, United, Alaska Air Group and Hawaiian Airlines—wrote to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and other officials begging them to stop AT&T, Verizon and other telecom providers from starting 5G service within two miles of airports around the country.

“We are writing with urgency to request that 5G be implemented everywhere in the country except within the approximate 2 miles of airport runways,” the letter read. “This will allow 5G to be deployed while avoiding harmful impacts on the aviation industry, traveling public, supply chain, vaccine distribution, our workforce and broader economy.”

When news broke that AT&T and Verizon planned to start 5G service this week without the above caveats in place, some airlines including Emirates, British Airways and Lufthansa scrambled to ensure safety by cancelling hundreds of flights.

CNN reported that the president of Emirates, Sir Tim Clark, told them that no regulators or telecom deployers informed the airline of the possible dangers. He said that the situation was “one of the most delinquent, utterly irresponsible” ones he had ever seen.

While 5G has been deployed throughout Europe with no issue, the frequency it uses is not used by aviation radar. That is not the case in the United States.

Airline and travel industry analyst, Henry Harteveldt told Smart Meetings that “the new 5G-C bandwidth can interfere with some planes’ altimeters and other equipment, potentially compromising aircraft security.”

“That means the majority of passenger and cargo aircraft are at risk,” Harteveldt says.

In response to the initial media frenzy around the issue, AT&T and Verizon agreed to hold off the 5G roll out, indefinitely.

Airlines for America responded by thanking AT&T and Verizon for their “willingness to ensure the continuation of service for the traveling…public…and provide time to implement mitigations.” They said, however, they had not “seen the details of the agreements” but that the pause would provide the opportunity to ensure…consumers are served in the long run.”

Prior to the stall, as airlines cancelled flights, Harteveldt urged travelers to subscribe to flight alerts from their airlines to receive immediate updates, advice which is good at all times regardless of the ultimate decisions on 5G deployment.

Our Take: It seems unlikely that airlines and aviation officials in the U.S. will wait for 5G rollouts to threaten aircraft and passenger safety. Until the situation is resolved, however, it is always good advice to book flexible flights and keep aware of flight changes in real time.

While Britain Prepares to Unmask, CDC Adds 22 Countries to High-Risk Category

Reuters and other sources reported this week that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that Covid-19 restrictions such as mandatory masks and working from home would be dropped next week.

The restrictions will be stopped because the U.K.’s population is largely vaccinated and boosted and Covid-19 rates, even during Omicron, are decreasing enough to allow a version of “normal” to return.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has added 22 countries to level 4 or “high-risk” category. The 22 countries are: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bermuda, Bolivia, British Virgin Island, Cape Verde, Egypt, Grenada, Guyana, Israel, Panama, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Sain Lucia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sint Maarten, Suriname, Turks and Caicos and Uruguay. The agency still recommends against unnecessary travel.

The Bottom Line

Media are reporting a possible spring crawl to normalcy following higher Covid-19 vaccination and booster shots as well as a diminished viral ability to cause severe illness in the majority of the population.

Death and illness rates from the Omicron variant, however, are still being tracked and there is little consistency in outcomes for travelers.

Last week in travel: Covid Tests, Airline Fees and Sustainable Travel

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