Resuming Some Level of Business Travel

Delta executives reported on Tuesday a “modest improvement” in corporate demand, though 3rd quarter travel volumes are still a small fraction of pre-pandemic levels.

Delta reported $3.1 billion in operating revenue for the 3rd quarter, down 76 percent from 2019, which demonstrates a “steady improvement” from the 2nd quarter revenue at just 10 percent of 2019 levels, CEO Ed Bastian said in a call. Bastian said that trend will continue into the 4th quarter, projecting revenue to reach about a third of 2019 levels.

A rebound in business travel is necessary for a “meaningful step up in demand,” along with a loosening of quarantine and travel restrictions, Bastian said. 3rd quarter business travel was about 15 percent of 2019 levels but was “trending up across all industries,” which is expected to continue into 2021, president Glen Hauenstein said. Bastian said about 90 percent of Delta’s primary corporate customers “do have travelers who are traveling in small numbers, but they are getting a new sense of the travel experience.”

“There have only been 44 documented cases of suspected Covid transmission onboard an aircraft with over 1 billion air travelers worldwide in 2020, and virtually all of them were in the early months of the pandemic before masks and revised safety protocols were in place” he said, citing data from the International Air Transport Association. “We carry at over a million people a week and have had no documented transmission onboard any of our aircraft.”

Those returning business travelers are contributing to increasing overall levels of comfort with returning to air travel amid the pandemic, buoyed by the industry’s track record during the pandemic, Bastian said.

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