Traveling this week provided some interesting data points for both business travel and leisure.
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I have written a couple of posts about travel observations during this unique time in our global history because the world is changing so rapidly around us and sometimes what we see on the news, for better or worse, is not what is seen in person. This information is all anecdotal and i just my observations alone.
Business Travel Making a Comeback?
I flew out and back on “Consultant Special” flights, departing on Sunday night and returning on Thursday night. On both nights, Pittsburgh International was packed. Specifically, on Thursday night I walked past medium-full gates for leisure destinations but a ton of professional types at the nearby American Airlines gates crowding on to very full flights.
I flew for business a couple of times during the pandemic and every other week prior. In my estimation, I would say that business travel may be coming back more than previously thought. Delta released a stat that prior to the new variant, corporate travel had returned 40% despite many majors (Apple, Microsoft, etc.) not yet putting employees back on the road.
Logic would have suggested that the latest variant and announcements that those employers rescinded calls back to the office would have subdued some of that corporate travel, and it may have. But from my view on a Thursday night in Pittsburgh, it looked as busy as ever for business travel.
Empty Beaches, Full Flights
I have never seen the beaches in Fort Myers so empty, even in the summer or around hurricane season. I included a shot from my (now gone) drone that shows just five people across a massive stretch of beach a little more than a mile long. We had no issues finding a table at a restaurant, no wait getting coffee, and while it wasn’t deserted it was surprisingly light even for local traffic.
Flights, however, were relatively full. In contrast to flying during high season (packed flights) or summer trips (empty flights), our outbound sold 150 of 170 seats, and our return was about as full. Upon our return to Pittsburgh, the gate area was relatively full for another flight to Fort Myers, though this was a Thursday night so it would be logical that flight loads escalate for weekend getaways.
Cheap Tickets Abound for Florida Travel
Despite plenty of business travel and reasonably full flights to lesiure destinations on our dates (less so at other gates), cheap tickets are everywhere in the sunshine state and it’s not just on Spirit. Take a look at rates to Fort Lauderdale and Miami for mid-October. Keep in mind that the Spirit roundtrip you see will be cheaper if you buy it at the airport – our roundtrip came up as $86 online but the three of us flew for just $39.20 roundtrip each by buying at the airport.
American was available for $97 roundtrip nonstop Pittsburgh-Miami but the same at-airport purchase discounts are not available on American, of course.
It wasn’t limited to just Fort Lauderdale which faces competition from Southwest, and American in the case of the South Florida market. Even the usually expensive Florida Keys had cheap flights from just $236 on American into Key West. Not a bad time too visit the beautiful state parks and national parks in the islands.
Other markets like Orlando which also faces competition from Southwest adds Frontier to the party as well. For those curious, Southwest was between three times higher to Orlando and more than five times higher to Frot Lauderdale. Even after buying the extras, that’s still dramatically higher, as per usual. Families heading to Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando theme parks might find some of the cheapest times to visit especially from the northeast United States.
If you work remotely, now is a good time to head to the sunshine state.
We knew that leisure travel would drop off following the restart of the school year. We also knew that business travel was down, but I was shocked to see just how busy business routes appeared to be, and just how drastically wide open the beaches were. If you have the flexibility now is the time to go.
What do you think? Did you travel this week? What did you see?
I have not been seeing it. Lots of family travel, I think, since people are not tied to the office. I don’t see the blazer and khakis crowd. That said, my first professional association in person conference since the pandemic began is in a couple of weeks and it will be very interesting to see how it goes. I think a lot of professional associations are getting very nervous about membership loss without the ability to get together and will start putting live events on the calendar.
Kyle i am glad you are still alive.
I take it you decided to take the vaccine after all despite all the anti vaccine BS you used to post.
He would have still been alive anyway.
670,000 Americans, if they were able to reply, would hint otherwise.
I’m not totally convinced by your anecdotes at PIT. The fact that gate areas on business routes are full doesn’t tell you anything. Load factors are only part of the equation. Available seat miles are also an important variable of the equation. The fact that flights are full now doesn’t tell you anything unless you also factor in how many seats are operating on the city pair compared to 2019. If there were previously 10 flights a day, and now there are 4-5, it wouldn’t be surprising if they were jammed, and it would be why the airlines’ financial performance is improving.
@Greg – Great point, but I have to counter it. There were actually more seats available and sold over the summer than there were in 2019, once considered “Peak Travel.” They haven’t released the latest data but I haven’t seen a massive drawdown of flights or frequencies this time around.
I’m a south Floridian (Delray Beach). It’s dead compared to previous years, at the same time.
“I have never seen the beaches in Fort Myers so empty, even in the summer or around hurricane season.”
I take it you haven’t been to Fort Myers in late October. I intentionally plan my trips to SWFL about that time when I can; I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody there around that time, and the weather has usually started to cool off a little. Of course you do take the risk of a Wilma paying a visit.
Anyway, I think your perspective on whether business travel is making a comeback depends on the type of company you work for. At the small business I work for, I can tell you business travel has been largely back to normal since about April. Not necessarily because our employees want to, but because our clients and prospects demand that we schedule our meetings in-person. So things feel pretty well booming to me. On the other hand, people I know at the big accounting firms are still largely working from home (not necessarily by choice) and prohibited from traveling for business unless they receive a pre-approved exception from a high level partner. Maybe it doesn’t feel like a recovery to them.