Excerpt from Business Travel News
Covid-19 variant sweeps pandemic travel concerns into 2022
More than 4,400 flights were cancelled worldwide on Sunday Jan. 2, according to flight tracking website Flight Aware, dashing pre-holiday hopes for smooth travel going into 2022. With the Covid-19 omicron variant now bearing down hard in the eastern United States and throughout Europe, more than 2,700 cancellations affected flights into, within or out of the U.S. yesterday.
The cancellation miseries began in earnest on Christmas Eve. Globally, airlines cancelled more than 6,000 flights over the Christmas holiday weekend—Friday, Saturday and Sunday—with more than 1,700 into, within or out of the U.S. But midweek cancellations continued, with airlines cancelling 1,082 flights into, within or out of the U.S. on Wednesday, Dec. 29 and 1,125 on Thursday, Dec. 30.
While omicron was not the only factor contributing to cancellations—there were weather issues as well—staff shortages due to omicron infections and the requisite 10-day isolation period in place leading up to the intensive holiday season were the primary problem, according to the airlines.
“The nationwide spike in omicron cases this week has had a direct impact on our flight crews and the people who run our operation,” United Airlines offered in a statement on Christmas Eve.
What About Business Travel?
If past is prelude, the fast-moving omicron variant will disrupt business travel in a number of ways. Companies themselves could place new restrictions on travel. A Global Business Travel Association survey fielded in early December, prior to the height of the U.S. omicron, surge asked travel managers about the willingness of their companies to continue to permit nonessential travel. Just 17 percent said their companies had restrictions in place, but that was a blended number between Europe and the U.S. In Europe, where omicron was already on an strong upward trajectory, 32 percent of respondent companies had restricted travel. Only 12 percent of U.S. respondents had done so, but it was early days for omicron in the States.
Unlike past surveys, GBTA’s most recent did not ask about how the variant would affect employee “willingness” to travel. With new information about increased transmission associated with omicron coupled with the travel uncertainty wrought by airline staff shortages, short-term demand from would-be business travelers is likely to take a hit.
Indeed, U.S. airfare payment processor and data firm ARC reported corporate airline ticket sales down sequentially nearly 20 percent week over week, for the week ending December 26. Numbers dropped from 52 percent off 2019 sales to 62 percent off the 2019 benchmark. During the holiday week that ended Jan. 2, however, ARC data showed corporate tickets just 19 percent shy of the same week in 2019. Business travel booking demand may need distance from the busy holiday period to shake out.
In the meantime, 37 percent of travel suppliers and intermediaries said their business travel bookings had tracked an omicron-induced slide, according to the GBTA survey.
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