Business travel likely to stay depressed because executives prefer video meetings, spooking airlines

April 12, 2021, 8:56 AM UTC

Lifting pandemic-driven restrictions may not help business air travel recover as briskly as some had been hoping. Many executives have simply become used to the other mainstays of the pandemic: Zoom meetings and working from home.

A YouGov poll said 42% of European business felt they will fly less often even after COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, thanks to the ease of videoconferencing software. Most respondents found the shutdown of air travel made little to no impact on their work lives.

A minority (5%) went as far as to say that they will not be taking any business-related flights at all after restrictions ease.

The survey is alarming for the airline industry given the outsize importance of business travelers, who are responsible for 60% to 70% of all airline revenues even though they make up only about 12% of all passengers. The survey is also in keeping with Bill Gates’ prediction that business air travel will slump in the post-pandemic era. The pandemic had already resulted in a 60% decrease in passengers, and airlines lost around $370 billion.

YouGov polled 1,414 business travelers across seven European countries between December and January. Respondents were from Germany, France, Spain, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and the U.K.

Before the pandemic, cheap economy tickets for leisure travelers were effectively subsidized by people flying business or first-class, but analysts suggest this growth model will also change.

Six out of 10 travelers said given the option, they would prefer to travel by rail and would be happy to switch from first/business class to economy to reduce the impact it will have on the environment.

Before the lockdown, aviation was growing at 5.7% a year and ranked as a key source of pollution. Aviation also made up a majority of the oil demand growth in the transport sector.