Air France-KLM CEO sees business travel return despite low demand

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Air France-KLM Group chief executive officer Ben Smith said he believed that business travel would return despite decreased demand and changes in the business travel market. 

“I’m very confident that business travel, however you define it, will return to the same levels that we had in 2019 and will return to growth in a short or medium term,” Smith said while talking at Paris Air Forum on June 21, 2021. 

While business travel is seen as a lucrative market for long-haul operators, Air France-KLM seems to be not as dependent on business travel demand as other European air carriers, according to the Air France-KLM CEO. 

The group’s chief executive noted that they were “fortunate because over 50% of customers sitting in premium cabins were flying for leisure purposes” rather than for business travel purposes. 

“We are less exposed than some of the major European long-haul carriers. IAG is heavily dependent on business travel,” Smith added. “One third of our long-haul fleet have flexible business cabins that can be adjusted down to 50% of what the full business cabin could be.”

Despite being “flexible” in terms of business travel demand, Air France-KLM is “looking forward to returning to full business demand in an evolved way”.

Since the arrival of the pandemic in 2020, business travel has plummeted to unprecedented lows. Despite optimism from the vaccine rollout, signs showed that business travelers are hesitant to resume travel frequencies similar to 2019 levels.

According to the European Climate Foundation survey taken between December 2020 and January 2021, 40% from a total of 1,414 business travelers surveyed in Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the UK expect to fly less post-pandemic when health restrictions are lifted entirely. 

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.


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