Aviation: videoconferencing, the enemy of airlines

Deprived of their business class, due to the pandemic and the increase in meetings by interposed screens, airlines are pitching.

American airlines such as American are suffering greatly from the decline in business travel.

American airlines such as American are suffering greatly from the decline in business travel.


In the long term, will Zoom or Teams meetings replace business travel? These business trips by plane have fallen since the start of the pandemic, leaving a big hole in the coffers of American airlines. Their rebound will take time.

“All travel suddenly stopped in mid-March because of the Covid,” JJ Kinahan told AFP. A sudden change for this employee of the broker TD AmeriTrade, who until then spent about 75 nights a year away from home for work.

There is no shortage of planes and hotel rooms. He especially regrets not having any news from the receptionists and concierges of the establishments where he used to be.

His company currently only authorizes travel on a case-by-case basis. Anyway, says JJ Kinahan, “people are not in the office”.

The pandemic has devastated airlines: the four largest companies in the industry in the United States (American, United, Delta and Southwest) still lost nearly $ 11 billion cumulative in the third quarter.

Americans have started moving a little again for personal reasons: for the first time since mid-March, the number of customers passing through airport security last Sunday exceeded the 1 million mark. This is far from the 2.6 million recorded on the same day in 2019.

Many companies are re-authorizing travel, but are giving the green light in the dribbles.

Risk of lawsuits

Sometimes it is not possible to avoid travel, such as when a lawyer has to appear in court or a repair can only be made by a specialized technician, points out Alexandra Cunningham of the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth.

If employees working in closed places, such as slaughterhouses and cruise ships, have been able to claim compensation after falling ill, in his eyes it remains complicated to prove that the virus could have been caught during a trip from business.

But follow the recommendations of the health authorities, who advise to avoid all non-essential travel, “is currently the best way for a company to protect itself from the risk of lawsuits” by an employee, believes the lawyer.

It is also theoretically necessary to respect the quarantine rules imposed in certain States, which is not really practical for a trip of one or two days.

The disaffection of business travelers is a problem for airlines: if they represent only about 30% of passengers, they bring half of their turnover, according to the federation representing the sector, Airlines for America.

“Bread winner”

This category “is extremely important to United, it was our livelihood,” said Scott Kirby, the boss of the company, during a recent conference call. Business theft is still down 85% to 90% at United.

Scott Kirby wants to be optimistic: “We are social creatures,” he hammered, saying he expected a real rebound in business travel between the end of 2021 and 2022, and a return to normal in 2024.

“After September 11, everyone said the world was going to change, that nobody was going to steal anymore. They were wrong, ”Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly also recalled Thursday on CNBC. But the return to normal “will not be soon,” he said. “Maybe in ten years.”

Once the situation recovers, there could ultimately be a 10% to 20% reduction in the number of business trips, said Delta boss Ed Bastian, acknowledging the “impact” of new technologies. video. But it will never be a “substitute” for business travel, he said.

As for teleworking as such, it could even benefit air travel, noted in another conference call United’s sales manager, Andrew Nocella: employees who have made the choice to move away from the office will have to do so. return a few days a month.

“Business travel may be different, but we believe it will come back.” In the meantime, their fall will continue to weigh on the accounts of airlines.