Despite increase in air travel, airlines continue to take hit from lack of business travel

Little by little, people are returning to the air. But, one particularly important group seems slow to get on board.

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Adam Owens
, WRAL anchor/reporter
MORRISVILLE, N.C. — Little by little, people are returning to the air. But, one particularly important group seems slow to get on board.

Across the country, some business travelers have been slow to get back in the air.

"That is a really big hit," described Scott McCartney, who reports on airlines and travel for the Wall Street Journal.

McCartney said the coronavirus pandemic has been especially rough for the airline industry.

"It has been far worse for airlines than 9/11. It is going to go on for several years," said McCartney.

On Friday, a report from the Regional Transportation Alliance called for new funding in taxes, fees and government support to help meet the $2 billion deficit for Raleigh-Durham International Airport.

“To resolve the looming capital funding shortfall at RDU, this region must take true ownership of RDU’s financial future, by quickly raising or activating the airport user fees it can, modernizing and increasing local funding, and elevating and aligning the RDU 2040 campus vision with revenue reality,” the report declares.

The funds are needed for expansion and improvements at the airport.
McCartney said his research with airline colleagues showed business air travel is down significantly.

"When you do the math there, there was, on the low end, 19 percent. On the high end, there was 36 percent of business trips that just weren't coming back," he said.

This is a big deal for airlines, according to McCartney, because business travelers pay higher fares and for premium seats, which can add up to 70 percent of a bigger airline's business.

On top of that, McCartney believes some companies are still shy about workers traveling in a pandemic, and even if they do – the person they plan to meet may not be in the office.

"It's hard to go visit a client if the client is working remotely," said McCartney.

To make up lost ground in business travel, McCartney expects airlines to compete heavily in markets where companies are moving. That includes places like Austin, Seattle, Boston and the Triangle.

Overall, traffic at RDU Airport is looking up. More than 770,000 passengers flew through the airport in May. That's well above the same time last year, but about 40 percent below passengers numbers for 2019.


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