Business Traffic From Large Corporations Approaching 100% Recovery, Says United Executive
Recent bookings show surprising strength
by: Harvey Chipkin
Business traffic from large corporations is getting close to 100% of pre-pandemic levels, according to Andrew Nocella, chief commercial officer for United Airlines, speaking on a first quarter earnings call. He said the number represented “a nice tailwind.”
Nocella said that data from the last two weeks of April was a “surprise in its strength,” because the company had seen more conservative estimates.
The recovery in global long-haul business, said Nocella, is a few points ahead of domestic. And all the measurements, he said, are a good sign that the airline’s planned international revenue and capacity increases are moving in the right direction.
After reviewing the data, said Nocella, the outlook becomes a lot more positive, even as many headlines continue to predict a recession. “I can also confirm in absolute dollars,” said Nocella, “the last 14 days have been the best booking days for business traffic revenue that we've seen since the pandemic.”
CEO Scott Kirby offered cautionary words about the outlook, saying that the macro risks for the economy are higher today than a few months ago, as demonstrated by the banking scare with the failure of Silicon Valley Bank. While the airline has recovered from a drop-off in business after that event, he said, the airline’s “base case” remains a mild recession or soft landing.
Brett Hart, president, United Airlines Holdings, said the carrier led the industry with the lowest seat cancellation rate, despite around 20% of its flights being impacted by weather, the most of any of its competitors. This was the first time since 2012, he said, that United led on this metric. Additionally, he said, United was first or second in the quarter for on-time departures at nearly all its hub locations, including those heavily impacted by winter weather, like Chicago and Denver.