Companies Take Cautious Approach in U.S. Business-Travel Return

The return to the skies may take a while for U.S. business travelers. 

While overall airline-passenger numbers have surged, companies look to be taking a more cautious approach.

That’s one key takeaway from a survey conducted by travel analytics firm OAG. Of the U.S. business travelers surveyed, only 62% said their company is planning air travel in the next 12 months, while 20% said their firms have no plans, and 18% said none had been specified.

Companies Take Cautious Approach in U.S. Business-Travel Return

The delta variant is playing a role in limiting improvements, with OAG is seeing both domestic and international demand softening as the Northern Hemisphere heads into the fall. 

The variant has caused “a bit of a pause” on segments of business for Delta Air Lines Inc., particular business travel, Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said at a conference last week. 

“We were anticipating -- as we got into the post-Labor Day period -- seeing another step-up in business travel,” Bastian said. Instead, many firms have pushed business travel back into the latter part of the year or early start of 2022.

“It’s probably about a 90-day plus in return to travel for that next leg-up that we were expecting to see, but it’s coming,” he said.

Almost half of travelers surveyed are booking two weeks to a month in advance of flying, putting airlines in a difficult cash-flow position, OAG said. Typically, flights are booked up to 11 months before the date of travel, according to the report. 

Reasons for the change include companies focusing more closely on the return on investment of any travel while revenue remains fragile, said John Grant, a senior analyst at OAG. Wider use of video conferencing, rising complexity of travel protocols and the negative aspects of increased social distancing are also among factors behind the change.  

“Collectively, it is a powerful cocktail of deterrent,” Grant said in an email. 

There are signs of improvement. A key travel corridor for finance workers -- the New York-London route  -- is back among the busiest international routes, ranking in 10th place, even as it’s operating at just 40% of the level of capacity operated in August 2019, according to OAG data

OAG surveyed users of its flight tracking app Flightview in July and August. More than 1,800 responded and about half were traveling at the time they took the survey.

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