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Coronavirus grounded business travel. Will it ever come back?

Updated: Jun 19, 2020

Coronavirus has grounded flights around the world. For frequent business class fliers, the ride may have ended for good

In our new work-from-home reality, the closest you can get to a business trip is taking your briefcase to the supermarket. Corporate travel has ground to a halt, and no one is sure when it will be back. Its future is up in the air.

Ninety-nine per cent of business trips by European companies have been cancelled or suspended, according to the Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA)

So far, much like everything else going on, there’s no clear plan in place. Turning the system off was easy, but turning it back on is going to be extraordinarily complex, says Scott Solombrino, executive director and COO of the GBTA. “It will take three to four years to get back to 2019 levels because in 2019 we were in the middle of the strongest economy in the history of the world,” he says.

Right now there’s no coordination. We don’t know whether you’ll be able to travel from New York to London without doing a two-week quarantine on either end. We don’t know whether jet-setting executives are going to be blocked from entering Sydney because they had meetings in LA and Shanghai the week before. And we don’t know if sitting in a closed, air-conditioned, metal tube for several hours, with 180 other people, is a good medical decision.

“There’s a health issue more than anything else,” says Mark Manduca, aviation analyst at CITI. Airline bosses have already discussed wearing masks throughout a flight; leaving the middle seat empty; and adding temperature screenings to the security process. Future flights, even if you’re in business class, are starting to look, at worst, like a breeding ground for bacteria, and at best, like quite an ordeal. “It’s hard to see how my appetite for travel as an individual is not going to shift,” says Manduca.

This may cause companies to turn to business aviation. People aren’t going to want to risk their lives to go on a business trip, but companies who can afford it could hire private jets. “Remember not every company is laying people off, there are corporations in the world that are thriving in this environment,” says Solombrino. He is referring to companies such as Walmart and Amazon (Jeff Bezos’s net worth has increased by $24bn in recent weeks). “The whole world hasn't just stopped. There are people moving around, and people have definitely been using private aviation.”

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