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French Airline CEO Expects Business Travel to Return to Pre-Pandemic Levels, Despite Current Low Demand

Air France-KLM Group CEO Ben Smith believes business travel will return despite reduced interest and the changes the business travel market has had to go through due to the pandemic, reports.

Speaking at the Paris Air Forum this week, Smith was optimistic that business travel will return, perhaps to the same pre-pandemic levels.

“I am very confident that business travel, whatever you define it, will return to the same levels we had in 2019 and return to growth in the short or medium term,” Smith said.

According to the CEO of Air France-KLM, although the business is seen as a profitable market for long-haul operators, the company does not depend on commercial travel as is the case with other European air carriers.

“We are less exposed than some of the major European long-distance carriers. IAG relies heavily on business travel,” Smith added.

He noted that the company was fortunate that more than half of the luxury cabin customers were traveling for leisure rather than business travel.

“One third of our long-haul fleet has flexible work cabins that can be adjusted up to 50 percent of what a full work cabin would be,” he said.

Although the company believes it is “resilient” in terms of demand for business travel, Air France-KLM is looking to meet the full demand for business travel as an innovative alternative.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, business travel has reached an all-time low. Despite the optimism created by the vaccination campaign, various surveys have revealed that business travelers are reluctant to resume travel frequencies similar to 2019 levels.

According to a European Climate Foundation survey conducted between December 2020 and January 2021, 40% of the total 1,414 business travelers participating in Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom expect flying after the pandemic. , despite the health restrictions that have been fully lifted.

The proliferation of web and video conferencing services across various industries through platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype and Google Meet has provided a convenient alternative that has affected the decline in flight capacity seen in 2020. This phenomenon has had a negative impact on business travelers who started attending fewer business trips.

According to the European Organization for the Safety of Air Navigation, EUROCONTROL, air traffic across Europe decreased by 61 per cent in May 2021 compared to the situation prior to the pandemic.

However, Airports Council International in Europe (ACI) warned that queues could be long due to the high number of passengers during the summer season.

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