Business travel

Business travel outlook underscored by fragile recovery at London City Airport

Skift take

A record day in terms of the number of passengers, bankers again rubbing shoulders with tourists in the terminal. But the good news ends there, as business travel traffic proves impossible to predict in the short term, and pre-pandemic levels are not expected to return until at least 2025.

Matthew Parsons

The restarted business travel and extended airline schedules have just helped London City Airport register its busiest day recently since the pandemic struck.

It was enough for his aviation chief to describe the moment as “beautiful”.

“The traffic of visits between friends and relatives remains the strongest, but we can again see gray suits in the airport,” said Anne Doyère. “There’s a buzz in the terminal, and I’ve heard from airlines that they like to see their staff so happy.

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There is probably relief with the emotions as well. Some 20,000 passengers passed through the airport on September 3, 30% more than the previous week.

It has now been just over a year since the airport, located next to Canary Wharf, the capital’s financial district, entered emergency mode. It has cut its workforce by a third and suspended its expansion plan for the terminal.

The number of passengers in 2020 is down 82% from the record 5.1 million passengers who flew in 2019.

To put it in context: from January to August of this year, it handled 214,000 passengers.

To mix together

Forecasting is impossible, said Doyère, and it comes from a seasoned professional who has been at the airport for almost 10 years and who has already worked at Air France for four years. But there are some promising trends that she identifies.

On the one hand, this first battalion of business travelers finally receives the green light to fly. “Few companies have a clear ban, but they need to get approval from their manager and senior manager,” she said. “But if your trip brings value, which is usually the case because it’s the first wave of travelers, developing sales, they can go.” And the banks have done well during the pandemic.

Classic business destinations are also making a comeback. The domestic “heavyweights” were Belfast and Edinburgh during the crisis, but the airport is now seeing Dublin, Zurich, Berlin, Frankfurt and Amsterdam bounce back, with high load factors.

And people are mixing business and leisure travel more. Doyere herself recently traveled to Valencia to work remotely for a week.

On the leisure side, tourists continue to chase after the last rays of the sun. British Airways, for example, has extended its summer season, including routes to the Greek Islands. “It was a good bet to continue these recreational routes,” said Doyère. “A lot of people who were unsure this summer decided to sunbathe later.”

It is now on the verge of being a piece of certainty after confirmation that England is relaxing Covid testing rules and removing the so-called traffic light system, which has been a costly obstacle to the holidays. And further, British Airways is adding a twice-weekly ski route to Salzburg, Austria on December 10, while Logan Air flies to the Shetland Islands from May 9.

But it’s unclear how many businesses will ever return, which is why the airport is simultaneously marketing business and leisure campaigns. “The main thing is not to put all your eggs in one basket,” says Doyère. “It’s impossible to predict how commercial traffic will come back. “

Terminal expansion remains on hold as the recovery begins, but the airport predicts, like many others, that that moment may not arrive until 2025.

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