American Airlines chief executive Doug Parker says the carrier has seen business travel patterns shift amid the pandemic, and that smaller companies are now on the leading edge of the return in corporate travel.

“The companies that are more nimble, that perhaps don’t have large headquarters, those that really need to do business, are doing so,” he says at the Skift Aviation forum webinar on 17 November. “Smaller companies are travelling at higher rate than large corporations.”

American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER 2020

Source: Max Kingsley-Jones/FlightGlobal

American Airlines is seeing business travel patterns shift in the post-coronavirus environment

Business travel patterns have also shifted because the way people work has changed permanently. Airlines have to be flexible and adapt, he adds.

Prior to the pandemic, business travellers tended to depart on Sundays and return on Thursdays or Fridays. With the advent of video conferencing and other technologies that enable more remote work, those patterns no longer exist, Parker says.

“It flattens out the peaks and allows for more and more types of travel,” he says.

But in the end, he thinks business travel will return to pre-pandemic levels.

“Business is a social operation, we all need to connect, and airlines connect,” he says.

Parker adds that Fort Worth-based American saw an exponential rise in bookings for long-haul travel after the USA lifted entry restrictions for non-US citizens and permanent residents on 8 November. He thinks that boom will continue for the foreseeable future. 

“It varies by country, but… demand for international travel [in] 2022 is going to be incredibly strong, maybe as high as in 2019,” he says. “As long as we can keep on this trend, I don’t think its remotely a stretch to believe that by this coming summer” international travel will be at 2019 levels.

When the restrictions are lifted, the travel comes,” says Parker.

He thinks a travel surge will begin in the coming weeks, as the end-of-year holiday travel season gets underway. 

This week, American said it scheduled an average of about 5,000 daily departures to more than 300 destinations during the Thanksgiving travel period, later this month. The carrier plans to operate ”92% of our 2019 flying schedule,” during the traditionally busy period. 

“We are going to be busy. We are ready for it and excited for it,” Parker adds.