With business travel still in the dumps, the battered airline industry is hustling to fill empty seats with vacationers and others looking for a respite amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In a big shift, airlines are also now allowing passengers to change flying dates without getting hit by extra fees, with United going so far as to permanently nix ticket-change fees that can run as high as $200, the cable business news network reports.
Airlines are also beefing up the number of domestic flights as they cut back on international routes.
United is adding 28 nonstop Florida flights for the holiday season, while Southwest has added its own flights to big domestic tourist destinations like Las Vegas, Nashville, Denver and Fort Myers in Florida, among other cities, according to the report.
In a sign of the seismic shift in travel patterns wrought by COVID-19, Denver became home to the busiest airport in the U.S. in July as travelers flocked to the Mile-High City and the nearby Rocky Mountains.
Still, as they scramble to replace more lucrative business travelers with typically cost-conscious, bargain-hunting tourists, the airline industry has its work cut out for it.
Before the pandemic hit, business travelers made up 30 percent of the airline industry’s passengers, but accounted for half of its revenue, according to the industry group Airlines For America.
The vast majority of respondents to a recent survey by the Global Business Travel Association – 85 percent – said they had canceled all or most of their business travel for the year.
Video conferencing is also helping to pick up the slack, enabling businesses to connect with their employees and customers without leaving the office.
The International Air Transport Association now predicts it could take until 2024 for airline passenger traffic to return to pre-pandemic levels.