As optimism from the vaccine rollout drives a revival in aviation travel activity, signs show that business travellers are hesitant to resume travel frequencies similar to 2019 levels.

A survey taken between December 2020 and January 2021 across seven European countries finds that a majority of business travellers expect business flights to recover to a lower frequency than before the implementation of COVID-19-related restrictions. 

According to the survey commissioned by the European Climate Foundation, a group supporting net-zero carbon emissions, 40% from a total of 1,414 business travellers surveyed in Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the UK expect to fly less post-pandemic when health restrictions are lifted entirely.

Although 26% of the survey participants experienced disruptions to productivity, this hesitation in business travel is supported by the 55% of participants who claimed their job productivity was unaffected by the air travel restrictions imposed in March 2020, and 19% stating improved job productivity from home.

38% of the surveyed participants expect their flight frequency to return to pre-pandemic 2019 levels when health restrictions are removed, although 41% have already flown one or more flights since March 2020. 

Additionally, the poll shows that 36% of business travellers in France and the Netherlands are prepared to employ their cost savings per flight towards greater use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels while 59% prefer air travel over rail routes to the same destination.

The widespread introduction of online services and video conferencing across multiple industry sectors through platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams has provided a suitable alternative to navigate the drop in flight capacity seen in 2020. This seems to have had a negative impact on business travelers’ decision-making towards their business flight frequency. 42% estimate to fly less as a result of video conferencing options while 42% are prepared to fly as often as 2019 levels regardless of the video conferencing capabilities.

Business travel recovery is predicted to lag behind in the coming years with the likelihood of an unchallenged return to pre-COVID-19 levels dwindling, from mounting pressures from environmental organisations to reduce emissions. Despite the rift created, 11% of business travellers expect to fly more frequently post-COVID-19.