The Army now has more four-star generals serving on active duty than the Army and Air Force combined had during World War II

The Army now has more four-star generals serving on active duty than the Army and Air Force combined had during World War II.

Army Col. Christopher Coglianese, the chief of Future Operations at Army Futures Command, tweeted this month about the milestone, which the service has only hit once in the past.

“Last time we had that rank density was April 1945, when we had four five-stars and 13 four-stars,” Coglianese said, adding pointing out that at that time the Air Force was known as the U.S. Army Air Force.

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In addition to Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville and Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin, the Army has five four-stars running Army Forces Command, Army Training and Doctrine Command, Army Materiel Command, Army Futures Command and Army Pacific Command.

Currently, the Army also holds 10 four-star positions in the joint world starting with Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Three of those are newly confirmed joint positions. As of June, 30, there were 14 Army four-stars, according to Defense Department figures. But Gen. Gus Perna, who was the commander of Army Materiel Command (AMC), was confirmed by the Senate on July 2 as commander of Operation Warp Speed, the sweeping effort to accelerate the development, manufacturing, and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics.

Gen. Edward Daly took over the four-star slot at AMC.

Being an Army General

The second new Army four-star to take over a joint position since June 30 was Gen. Daniel Hokanson, who was confirmed by the Senate on July 21 to command the National Guard Bureau. And Army Gen. James Dickinson was confirmed by the Senate on Aug. 6 to lead U.S. Space Command.

“It is true that the Army is at a high point; part of that is that the number of four-stars has been rising slowly over the last two decades,” said Mark Cancian, a retired Marine Corps colonel and a senior adviser for the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

One of those new Army four-star positions was added when Gen. Mike Murray was confirmed by the Senate on Aug. 20, 2018 to command the new Army Futures Command.

The Army has pulled ahead of the Air Force, “which seems to be the Army’s main competitor,” Cancian said.

“The Navy is perennially in third place, and periodically the Marine Corps surges up,” Cancian said.

One reason for the Army’s current dominance in the joint world is that the most recent conflicts had a heavy Army presence.

“We have been at war for two decades in Iraq and Afghanistan; those have been ground conflicts, so Army officers get more visibility and experience,” Cancian said. “It’s always a good sign when a service has a lot of four-stars because that means it is putting forward a level of talent and experience.”

The trend is not likely to last too long, though, Cancian said.

“These things have cycles and the Army is at an upcycle now,” Cancian said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if five years from now the Air Force and the Navy have a little uptick with the continuing focus on China.”

The new helicopter variant will go to the Army National Guard

In WASHINGTON, The newest version of the UH-72B Lakota light utility helicopter will enter the U.S. Army fleet in 2021, aircraft manufacturer Airbus announced Aug. 28 at the National Guard Association of the United States virtual trade show.

Beginning with the newest orders placed in 2020, Airbus will deliver 17 UH-72Bs next year after supplying 460 UH-72As across the Army, Navy and National Guard. In September, the last UH-72A (the 463rd) will roll off the production line in Columbus, Missouri, according to the statement.

The “B” model will look distinctly different from the “A” variant. The aircraft is based off the Airbus H145 and will feature a Fenestron tail rotor, which the current A model does not have, according to Airbus. The B model will also have more powerful engine technology, “enhanced” controls and the Airbus Helionix avionics suite, the company said.

The new helicopter variant will go to the Army National Guard.

“Since we first began operations with the UH-72 Lakota some 15 years ago, this helicopter has been the workhorse of the Army and National Guard, saving lives, assisting in disaster relief, training thousands of pilots, and, more importantly, helping to protect our communities and our country,” Col. Calvin Lane, the Army’s project manager for utility helicopters, said in the statement. “Procuring the UH-72B Lakota provides tremendous value with no research and development costs for the Army.”

Since the program’s inception in 2006, the Army and National Guard have logged nearly 800,000 flight hours, serving as the initial entry rotary-wing training aircraft for the Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and has flown search and rescue, medical evacuation and disaster relief missions as well counter-drug operations at the Southwest border.

The Army chose to make the Lakota the primary training helicopter and retire its TH-67 aircraft when it restructured its entire aviation fleet in 2013. The decision met some resistance. Several companies like Bell Helicopter and AgustaWestland were hoping at the time to sell military training helicopters to several armed services, including the Army.

AgustaWestland, a Leonardo subsidiary, filed a lawsuit four years ago in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims over the Army’s plan to buy 16 of the aircraft for the training fleet. The court ruled in favor of AgustaWestland, and the Army was barred from buying the Lakotas. But the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s decision in early 2018, allowing the service to move forward in procuring Lakotas.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launch of a national security satellite was scrubbed for the second time this week

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – ***4:15 a.m. Aug. 29, 2020 p.m.***

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launch of a national security satellite was scrubbed for the second time this week.

A new date and time has not been announced when the launch will be rescheduled.

The liftoff was scheduled for 2:04 a.m. but due to a temperature reading on the rocket the countdown was delayed until 3:28 a.m.

Three seconds before the launch on Saturday morning the countdown stopped.

ULA Launch Director Lou Mangieri announced another attempt would not be made Saturday within the launch window.

The mega rocket did not get off the ground due to an unexpected condition three seconds before liftoff, prompting an automatic abort, according to launch officials. It will take at least seven days to assess the issue and select a new launch date, according to ULA.

SpaceX is still targeting two launches scheduled on Sunday.

***ORIGINAL***

United Launch Alliance will launch a U.S. national security mission using its Delta IV Heavy rocket early Saturday morning and it should be a treat for early risers because the heavy-lift rocket is a rare sight.

The launch was originally scheduled for 2:04 a.m. on Saturday and was delayed until 3:28 a.m.

The launch will take place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Inside the rocket’s nose cone is a spacecraft known as NROL-44, a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office.

The first attempt was scrubbed due to an issue with a critical ground pneumatic control system.

The liftoff marks the eighth for the Delta heavy for NRO missions, according to ULA. The private space company has another launch lined up for NRO sometime in September but that will be with Altas V, ULA’s workhorse rocket.

Last October, the heavy-lift rocket launched NASA’s Parker Solar Probe from Cape Canaveral on a mission to study the sun.

Ahead of the launch, ULA did something unusual with the rocket. It used the rocket and launch hangar as a backdrop to project an interactive video, known as 3D mapping.

The project took three years to complete because it’s a rocket with a national security payload on a Air Force Station with restricted access. It’s the first time a real rocket has been used as a landscape for art, according to ULA. The idea came from ULA CEO Tory Bruno.

If ULA’s launch goes on time, it will be the first of three possible launches this weekend from the Space Coast. SpaceX has two launches planned, both for Sunday.

Fewer drivers on the road may be complaining about uncomfortable seats, thanks to NASA.

Space technology developed by and for NASA has made its way into cars and even onto the NASCAR track. Future collaborations with the auto industry and car manufacturers could change how we get from point A to point B. NASA helped drive the following five auto innovations.

1. NASA standards helped design comfortable car seats.

Fewer drivers on the road may be complaining about uncomfortable seats, thanks to NASA.

Neutral Body Posture

The neutral body posture shown here was created from measurements of 12 people onboard Skylab. Credit: NASA

When astronauts were aboard the first space station, NASA studied the posture their bodies naturally assumed in microgravity. The initial research and follow-on studies helped design everything from International Space Station work areas to the Orion spacecraft interior to comfortable new car seats in vehicles on Earth.

Nissan Motor Company turned to the NASA research as a starting point for developing a new driver’s seat. Like an astronaut, the driver of a car needs to be safe and comfortable to operate the vehicle efficiently for extended periods.

After years of research throughout the early 2000s and positive results, the car manufacturer debuted the seat derived from NASA standards in the 2013 Altima. Today, the design is in various Nissan models.

2. Spacecraft tire sensors warn drivers of flat tires.

A flat tire can take drivers by surprise. That should be happening less these days, thanks to tiny sensors that light up a dashboard warning whenever the tire pressure is off.

Proper tire pressure was crucial for a safe space shuttle landing on Earth, but in the early days of the program, there wasn’t a good way to gauge pressure in flight accurately. Among other solutions NASA explored, the agency contracted with a company to build a tire pressure sensor for the space shuttle.

The technology converts pressure into electrical resistance and generates real-time readings. After the company delivered the device to NASA, they adapted the sensor for cars. Today, U.S. law requires a pressure gauge on every car tire.

Space Shuttle Atlantis Landing

Space shuttle Atlantis nears touchdown on Runway 33 at the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Tony Gray/Tom Farrar

3. NASA-funded research brought about a new application of nanotechnology, repairing engine damage in cars and trucks.

Friction causes wear and tear on spacecraft components – and on car engines, too. Lubricants that reduce friction only delay and minimize this inevitable damage. NASA was interested in materials that could restore damaged parts to a like-new condition without replacing them, and funded research into using nanotechnology.

The aim was to use an existing liquid lubricant to carry nanoparticles to the point of friction to fill in tiny cracks or worn spots. In addition to keeping parts in good repair, such a lubricant could extend the systems’ working life. Initial research identified the best material – a type of ceramic – was effective, durable, and nontoxic. Qualifying the early-stage technology for use in space wasn’t practical, but research and development continued in the private sector. Today, tens of thousands of cars and trucks use the formula to keep engine parts in good shape.

Car Engine Lubricant Nanoparticles

Nanoparticles of a car engine lubricant seen under an electron microscope. The particles’ sticky side builds up layers until there isn’t any more friction. Credit: TriboTEX

4. NASA technology protects race car drivers from extreme heat – and headaches.

Speeding race car drivers are in the hot seat in more ways than one. Temperatures inside a stock car’s cockpit can soar to an estimated sweltering 160 degrees Fahrenheit. That extreme heat comes through the engine firewall, transmission tunnel, and floor.

Based on materials used to protect the space shuttle from the temperatures experienced as the crafts slammed back into Earth’s atmosphere (and faced temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit), a company created blanket insulation kits to shield race car drivers from excessive heat exposure.

Another byproduct of racing is combustion fumes that can cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness. Racing engineers adapted a NASA space technology to create a filter that removes 99% of all airborne particles. The filter provides drivers with fresh, clean air.

Astronaut Andrew Feustel Daytona

Astronaut Andrew Feustel watched cars on the Daytona International Speedway in 2008. Credit: NASA

5. Space technologies could help self-driving cars navigate the roads.

Just as robotic lunar landers and Mars rovers need “eyes” to guide it safely around the rocks and crevices of unfamiliar terrain, an autonomous car must safely navigate unforeseen obstacles.

NASA space technologies – lasers for landing on the Moon and artificial intelligence for navigating on other worlds – are helping make self-driving cars on Earth safer. The systems could revolutionize how cars navigate rush hour traffic and avoid collisions.

Neurala Self Driving Car Software

NASA funded research by the Boston-based company Neurala on deep-space computing. The software has other uses on Earth. This screenshot shows a self-driving car’s view when powered by the company’s software. The car can automatically identify pedestrians, cyclists, trucks, and more on a street in real-time. Credit: Neurala

NASA has a long history of transferring technology to the private sector. The agency’s Spinoff publication profiles NASA technologies that have transformed into commercial products and services, demonstrating the broader benefits of America’s investment in its space program. Spinoff is a publication of the Technology Transfer program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Chinese astronaut Liu Wang and Emma, for example, butt heads when it comes to how they approach parenting from space

As soon as you introduce humans into the infinite vacuum of space, they’ll fill it with their best and worst — personal hang-ups, cultural biases, pettiness — but also ingenuity and optimism.

All of this is on full display in Away, a solid Netflix drama out Sept. 4 that stars Academy Award winner Hilary Swank. It joins a small fleet of movies and TV shows offering the Earth-bound a reality-tethered glimpse of the sacrifice and struggle inherent in space exploration.

Away is based on a 2014 Esquire article by Chris Jones about NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year aboard the International Space Station. The show takes the basic themes of the article, like grappling with the physical and emotional distance from loved ones, and transfers them to an international team of five astronauts, helmed by Commander Emma Green (Swank), as they embark on a three-year round-trip journey to Mars for the first time.

The show splits its time between the crew of the spaceship Atlas, floating around and fixing life-threatening problems while managing their excitement and trepidation, and Green’s family back in Houston.

In the first episode, a health crisis back home forces Emma, who’s on the moon waiting to launch to Mars, to choose between family and mission. All the while, an incident causes some of her crew — including the older, more experienced Russian cosmonaut Misha Popov (Mark Ivanir) — to question her leadership abilities.

The message is clear: Had Emma been a man, none of this would be up for debate.

Away shows how even the most ascendant women aren’t immune to workplace drama and sexism.

If Emma chooses work, she’s a bad mom. If she chooses family, she’s “spitting in the face of women” everywhere, as one character says. It’s a nearly impossible dilemma. But on Swank’s shoulders, nothing is more believable than her full range of motion from concerned wife and mother to highly accomplished NASA astronaut and — above all — human being trying to figure it all out.

away-102-unit-00114r
Vivian Wu and Ray Panthaki in the Atlas’ command module.

Diyah Pera/Netflix

Gender dynamics aren’t the only bit of baggage loaded in the Atlas’ cargo hold. Away is also keenly aware of the journey to Mars as a “global effort,” packing astronauts from the US, India, China, Russia and the UK into a tin can. Space politics is its own thing.

“Reaching Mars might prove to be not just the greatest achievement for science, but for our planet,” Green says at a prelaunch press conference. On board it’s not all harmony, as the crew members learn to deal with and accept each other as individuals coming with different life experiences and cultural frames of reference. Chinese astronaut Liu Wang and Emma, for example, butt heads when it comes to how they approach parenting from space, and what they mean as symbols in their respective countries.

It’s hard not to make space serious. It’s a death trap. In the past several years multiple shows and movies have, with solemn tones, driven home how difficult space exploration is. National Geographic’s Mars interspersed real documentary footage and dramatizations of the colonization of the red planet to explain everything from dealing with long term psychological strain in space to the seemingly inevitable battle between the scientists who want to study Mars and the corporations that’ll want to strip it for resources. Hulu’s The First, focused on the least sexy part of the whole process: politics and bureaucracy.

Along those lines, there are moments when Away takes narrative routes that are familiar from other TV dramas. Each crew member, for example, gets his or her own backstory episode — some more successful than others. Certain characters develop feelings for each other in the midst of this high-stress situation. Swank starts visualizing her husband Matt (Josh Charles), a NASA engineer, on the ship, counseling her and supporting her through her travails.

There’s also fun space stuff, too. Misha makes vodka. Botanist Kwesi’s (Ato Essandoh) busies himself growing space salad. Everyone agrees the Chinese National Space Agency packed the best food.

Overall, Away is a fine, well-made drama that underlines just how human even the best of us are, even in the least human-friendly situations.

Just as the federal government stepped up for the airlines

Photo: Axios' Ina Fried and National League of Cities CEO Clarence Anthony. Courtesy of Axios Events.

Axios’ Ina Fried (l) and National League of Cities CEO Clarence Anthony. Photo: Axios

Airlines service cuts to small cities could dramatically affect connectivity for Americans, National League of Cities CEO and Executive Director Clarence Anthony said during an Axios virtual event on Friday. “It is a devastation,’ he said.

What’s happening: American Airlines last week announced plans to suspend service to 15 small cities once federal coronavirus aid for airlines runs out in October, per CNBC. American was the only airline servicing nine of the affected airports.

  • “It is disappointing that the airlines are cutting services to those communities, those mid to small cities and small regions,” Anthony said.
  • “And it means so much more to those because it means your ability to go to a medical appointment … It’s cut off job opportunities, services to those regions,” he added.

What they’re saying: “In the large markets like where you are in [San Francisco] and where I am in Washington, D.C., one or two routes don’t make a difference. To the small and mid-sized communities, it means life and death of those regions and those communities.”

  • “Transportation equity is achievable and it’s tangible, and we need to make sure that it’s implemented in America,” Anthony added.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he expects a bipartisan push in Congress to shore up public transportation during the coronavirus pandemic, as it did for the airlines earlier this year and is under pressure to do again.

The state of play: During an Axios virtual event, LaHood underscored that Americans are using cars, rather than public transit, during COVID-19 pandemic. Public transportation as a result has subsequently seen a massive drop in ridership and revenue along with it.

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RNC week: Axios’ chief technology correspondent Ina Fried hosted a conversation on the future of how people get around in the era of COVID-19, featuring former Secretary of Transportation and co-chair of Building America’s Future Ray LaHood, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation Gia Biagi and League of Cities CEO Clarence Anthony.

Ray LaHood discussed how the efforts to create more sustainable public transit have stalled with COVID-19, and called on the federal government to financially support existing transit systems.

  • On the need for the financial support: “Just as the federal government stepped up for the airlines…there will have to be a huge influx of federal resources in order to sustain transit systems until they can get back to some sort of sort of normalcy in terms of ridership.”

Gia Biagi highlighted how COVID-19 has shifted people’s mindset about what city streets can look like with fewer cars, and unpacked the existing inequities in Chicago’s public transportation system.

  • How micromobility can supplement existing transit in Chicago: “What we’re trying to do is connect the dots with micromobility and investments in the actual infrastructure. [Where we’re seeing a need] also overlaps where we’ve seen the effects of structural racism and disinvestment that are fundamentally policy choices that have been made for many years.”

Clarence Anthony discussed transit equity in cities, and the need for federal and state support to ensure that people have equal access to public transportation.

  • “What is our role as city leaders? It is to make sure that the equity is brought into the policy and the process and that we demand that all of those services — like ride share and public services — are brought to all communities in an equal way.”

Axios VP of Events Kristin Burkhalter hosted a View from the Top segment with Lyft Chief Policy Officer Anthony Foxx, and discussed Lyft’s role in the transportation ecosystem and how they’re contributing to racial justice efforts.

  • On Lyft’s relationship to public transit: “We feel like we’re part of the ecosystem. We’ve never wanted to overtake public transit because we believe public transit is an essential service that only the public can do.”

Thank you Lyft for sponsoring this event

Frenemies Facebook and Apple square off

Facebook and Apple are fighting an increasingly high stakes battle over user privacy and access to the iOS App Store, deepening a rift between two of the most powerful companies in Silicon Valley.

Why it matters: The two companies, along with Google and Amazon, are being challenged over a range of issues, from abuse of power to violations of privacy to allowing hate and misinformation to flourish. By trading accusations, Facebook and Apple could just be handing more ammo to critics and regulators — but at the same time, conflict between these giants could be read as a sign of competitive life and a rebuttal to antitrust charges.

Joplin lost branded airline service more than 15 years ago after ticket prices for flights spiked and a St. Louis hub connection became unavailable

It looks like Joplin’s designation as an Essential Air Service city will protect it from the recently announced temporary suspension of American Airlines flights to and from Dallas, Texas.

Steve Stockam, manager of the Joplin Regional Airport, said Friday that he had read in industry publications and learned from other sources that Joplin and a couple of other cities will not be part of the cuts in service announced Aug. 20. That would have shut off Joplin’s access to any airline service from Oct. 7 to Nov. 3.

The airline first identified 30 small cities where service would be suspended because of low demand and the expiration of federal requirements and payroll assistance provided by the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. It then narrowed the list to 15.

On Thursday, three cities were pared from the list of 15, according to the news website, www.simpleflying.com. In addition to Joplin, those are Roswell, New Mexico, and Sioux City, Iowa.

Stockam has not received any official confirmation from the airline or the U.S. Department of Transportation, he said, but the flights are now relisted and tickets for them are being sold on the American Airlines website after having been taken off. Stockam said the tickets would not be available if American did not intend to provide the flights. It has been providing two flights a day to and from Dallas.

“What we understood was that after the news release, then the DOT was looking at the list and realized that a couple of airports on that list are still protected by the Essential Air Service program,” Stockam said.

American does not still receive EAS subsidy funding for its Joplin flights, but protections from that federal program are still in place, Stockam said.

Joplin lost branded airline service more than 15 years ago after ticket prices for flights spiked and a St. Louis hub connection became unavailable.

To try to get a branded airline service back, Joplin hired an airline consultant and lobbied to get American Airlines service with a Dallas hub. In 2011, the DOT awarded an EAS subsidy to American Airlines to do that. Passenger count improved so much that the EAS subsidy of nearly $2.8 million in 2011 and 2012 was reduced to slightly more than $342,000 in 2013. The subsidy continued, in diminishing amounts, through 2018.

Last year, American added flights to Chicago which had long been sought by Joplin to provide faster connections to the East. The city, the chamber and businesses all contributed to pay a $600,000 revenue guarantee for the start of the Chicago service. Those flights were available from June 2019 until April as business travel pulled back amid a worsening COVID-19 pandemic.

Stockam said President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency because of the pandemic cancelled out the Chicago flights.

But, a federal pandemic relief allocation provided $50 billion in cash and low-interest loans for passenger airlines, which allowed Joplin to keep its Dallas service.

In return for taxpayer dollars, airlines were barred from furloughing workers and were required, in most cases, to continue serving destinations they had before the pandemic. Both of those conditions expire Sept. 30, which set the stage for American to further trim its service.

Passenger airlines and labor unions for airlines workers are asking the government to provide an additional $25 billion to keep workers paid and avoid furloughs through next March.

Stockam said the airport’s other programs, such as a $14 million runway reconstruction project, are not in danger of being cut.

Regarding the runway rebuild, he said, “We’ll probably see the release of that money pretty quickly. Infrastructure work that has been scheduled and programmed has to keep going on,” so that when service rebounds, the airport will be ready to take advantage of the opportunity.

Money provided by federal grants for those types of projects also serve as economic stimulus for the nation’s lagging pandemic economy. “That’s bringing Washington, D.C., dollars back here,” Stockam said.

U.S. air travel remains down roughly 70% from where it was a year ago, according to the Transportation Security Administration

United has not said how many other employees will face involuntary furloughs, but warned 36,000 their jobs were at risk earlier this summer. Only 2,250 pilots got layoff warnings at the time.

U.S. air travel remains down roughly 70% from where it was a year ago, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

Earlier this week, American Airlines said it will have 40,000 fewer workers this fall, including about 19,000 who were involuntarily furloughed or laid off. The airline said 23,500 took buyouts, retired early, or volunteered for a leave of absence, but it wasn’t enough to avoid cuts without more federal aid.

Delta Air Lines also said it will furlough 1,941 pilots in October unless it can reach an agreement with the union to reduce costs.

Southwest Airlines said last month that it expects to avoid furloughs or layoffs through the end of the year after 16,900 employees took voluntary extended time off or left the company, but “will continue to plan for multiple weak scenarios and maintain our preparedness.”

Every airline is suffering from the significantly-reduced travel demand due to the coronavirus pandemic

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Every airline is suffering from the significantly-reduced travel demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Some are hurting worse than others, but one thing’s for sure — airline schedules look a lot different than last year. Carriers worldwide have slashed flights to cut costs amid the reduced demand.

Given the ever-changing travel landscape and quarantine restrictions, airlines aren’t 100% sure which flights will fill up — and which ones won’t. Operating empty flights is costly and inefficient, and flexible change and cancellation policies can further stunt the number of passengers on a given departure.

That’s why United’s latest initiative aims to trim down the number of empty flights the carrier operates, though it may result in added inconvenience to select passengers.

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United recently introduced a new program that analyzes flight loads to identify candidates for possible cancellation. Should the loads drop too low, United will consider canceling the flight — assuming that passengers and crew can be reaccommodated and the plane doesn’t need to be at the destination for another flight.

As first reported by Skift, this program apparently begins canceling flights within a week of departure. However, in an email to TPG, a United spokesperson indicated that it’s happening with much less notice.

“In the interest of operating as efficiently as possible with the least amount of disruption to our customers, we are proactively canceling flights that have few customers on board but have multiple departure opportunities available… When a cancellation occurs, we are proactively notifying impacted customers 18-24 hours ahead of their scheduled departure and automatically booking them on a new flight the same day or they may select an alternate flight that works best for them.”

Though the program began in mid-August, fewer than 1% of the carrier’s flights have been canceled. To be considered for cancellation, flights must have low load factors and multiple alternate segments available for rebooking. As such, the algorithm runs most frequently on flights between hubs or to major destinations.

Limiting last-minute cancellations to flights between large airports makes sense — United has more options to reaccommodate flyers without as much disruption.

If your United flight ends up getting canceled, you can select an alternate one that suits your schedule. You’re also entitled to a full refund, even if you booked a nonrefundable fare.

Related: How to determine if your flight will be full

But sometimes you need to get where you’re going, and a refund doesn’t cut it. Unfortunately, with this new program, United’s breaking from the industry-standard practice of schedule integrity.

Before the pandemic, when an airline sold a flight, you could expect the carrier to operate it — barring unforeseen delays due to mechanical problems or weather issues. Now, however, United’s playbook has changed.

A United Boeing 777 at Newark (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

It’d be one thing if United canceled empty flights a week before departure, but notifying customers of cancellations during the check-in window is downright deceitful. At that point, it’s likely too late to rebook yourself on another carrier or cancel your planned trip.

Related: United’s back to issuing refunds for 2-hour schedule changes

If you’ve got an upcoming United flight, be sure to double-check how full it is. If there are lots of seats for sale, cross your fingers that the flight doesn’t get canceled.

And if you’re considering booking a new United flight, beware. If the flight doesn’t fill up, there’s a (small) chance the airline will ultimately cancel your flight within 24 hours of departure.

Masks are most helpful in areas where it’s hard to maintain social distancing

Masks are now commonplace in most public spaces. But how are airlines handling face masks these days? Basically every airline has a policy in place requiring some kind of face covering with few exceptions—and warning that there may be serious consequences for those who refuse to comply, including possibly being banned from future travel with the company.

You probably know by now that masks are a crucial tool we have to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in public spaces. The coronavirus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets, which are expelled when people talk, cough, sneeze, and yell. When someone who’s infected with COVID-19 expels those droplets, they may contain viral particles that can go on to infect someone else. So, wearing a mask helps prevent those droplets from getting far enough to actually spread the virus.

Masks are most helpful in areas where it’s hard to maintain social distancing, like, say, in the confines of an airplane for hours at a time. So, if you’re planning on doing any air traveling in the near future, it pays to be prepared and learn how airlines are approaching face masks—and what they expect from you.

Delta Airlines

Every passenger who’s at least two years old must wear a face mask throughout their travel experience, including when checking in, while in the boarding area, on the jet bridge, and while on the plane except when eating or drinking, according to its website. Although Delta doesn’t specify exactly what type face coverings are and are not okay, it does say that passengers should wear masks that comply with the CDC’s recommendations.

The airline recommends that those who have a medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask should reconsider traveling right now or be prepared to go through what Delta calls its “Clearance-to-Fly” procedure before their flight. The process involves a consultation with a Delta agent and third-party medical professional, which can take up to an hour.

Delta appears to be pretty darn strict about these policies. Just this month, for instance, a flight was forced to turn around when two passengers refused to wear masks, SELF reported previously. To date, the airline has banned about 240 people for not wearing masks, CNN reports.

American Airlines

American requires passengers to wear masks except for children younger than two years old. The airline specifies that customers should plan to bring their own face masks and expect to wear them from the moment they arrive at the airport until the moment they leave the airport at their destination, according to American’s website. However, it’s okay to take the mask off briefly when eating or drinking.

The airline also specifically mentions that, as of August 19, 2020, masks with exhaust valves or vents will no longer be allowed, per the CDC’s recent update to its guidelines. American also warns that, if you refuse to wear a mask, you may not be allowed to board your flight “and future travel on American.”

United Airlines

Expect to wear a mask for your entire flight and while in the airport, United says on its website, except for brief moments when you’re eating or drinking. Children who are under the age of two are exempt, however.

You should plan on bringing your own mask, but if you don’t have one a United agent will provide you with one for free. Specifically, United says “travelers are required to wear a face covering with no vents or openings that fully covers their nose and mouth. A face shield alone does not count as a face covering.”

If you refuse to wear a mask, a United agent will first inform you that for your safety and the safety of those around you, a mask is required. But if you still refuse, you may not be allowed to fly and you could also lose your future travel privileges “on United for a certain period of time that will be determined when we review the incident,” the airline says.

Southwest Airlines

All customers are required to wear a face covering during their entire Southwest travel experience, the airline says. Masks with holes, masks made of lace or mesh, or masks with exhalation valves or vents will not be allowed. Southwest also notes that masks that cannot be secured under the chin—like bandanas—are not sufficient.

But the airline also specifically mentions that neck gaiters, as long as they cover the nose and mouth, are allowed.

Alaska Airlines

“No mask? No travel,” Alaska says. All passengers ages two and older are expected to wear a cloth face mask or covering for the entirety of their flight, including at the airport and while boarding and deplaning. Specifically, masks “must be made from a cloth or other barrier material that prevents the discharge, release, and expulsion of respiratory droplets from a person’s nose or mouth,” which does not include masks with valves or vents.

The airline also has an innovative policy to deal with those who refuse to wear a mask on board: “Guests who repeatedly remove or refuse to wear a mask or face covering will be given a final warning—in the form of a yellow card,” the airline says. With that, the passenger will no longer be able to travel with Alaska and any future travel they had planned with the airline will be canceled and refunded, including return or connecting trips.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier’s policy is clear and succinct: Passengers and employees are all required to wear face masks that cover the nose and mouth for the entirety of their travel experience. The only exception is for children under two.

However, bandanas, masks with vents or valves, masks made of mesh, and face shields on their own are not acceptable masks. If you don’t have a mask, Frontier has a handy blog post with instructions to make one at home without any sewing involved.

“This level of protection is important for everyone’s well-being and if you don’t wear an approved face covering, you may lose future travel privileges on Frontier,” the airline says.

Spirit Airlines

If you plan on flying with Spirit, know that the airline requires face masks for everyone except children under two—no exceptions, including medical reasons, the airline says. Spirit specifies that cloth masks must be secure under the chin, cover the nose and mouth, and contain at least two layers of fabric. However, masks with vents, bandanas, and face shields are not considered acceptable masks.

“Face coverings must be worn while at the airport, on the jet bridge, and onboard the aircraft,” Spirit says. “Face coverings may be removed only while eating, drinking, or taking medication—when done eating, drinking, or taking medication, face coverings must be repositioned immediately.” Any passengers who don’t comply with these policies could lose their flight privileges with Spirit for the future.

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