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Business & Finance

Delta CEO foresees 'renaissance' of US business travel

  • "I think there's going to be a renaissance of business travel in our country, not just for the airlines, I think in general," Bastian said. "Customers have a desire to get back out on the road and reconnect like never before," he said.
Published June 3, 2021

Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastian predicted on Thursday a boom in business travel as corporate America emerges from the coronavirus pandemic and businesses reopen.

"I think there's going to be a renaissance of business travel in our country, not just for the airlines, I think in general," Bastian said at a Bernstein virtual conference.

"Customers have a desire to get back out on the road and reconnect like never before," he said, adding that this is something that "technology can't possibly replicate."

Video conferencing won't disappear completely, however, and Bastian said he continues to expect traditional corporate travel to be reduced by 20% to 30% from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

But that does not mean that overall volume will be 20% to 30% lower, he said, as different types of business travel emerge.

Airlines have said, for example, that as more people work from remote places, they may make trips to the corporate offices once or twice a month.

"I think the lines actually will hold in just fine with where we were in 2019," Bastian said.

After heavy losses in 2020, Delta said it expects to generate a pre-tax profit in the second half of 2021, with a re-opening of corporate America by Labor Day in early September.

So far airlines' recovery from the coronavirus pandemic has been led by domestic leisure travel demand, which Bastian said was better than expected in May and June.

"The US consumer is leading the return of our air travel business, and I could not be happier with what we're seeing happening as our business really is into a full-fledged recovery mode," Bastian said.

The US carrier forecast a second-quarter pre-tax loss of between $1 billion and $1.2 billion, compared with an earlier expectation of between $1 and $1.5 billion loss.

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