A subtle change in travel management is roiling beneath the surface driven by road warriors’ needs and corporate profitability. This change can be seen in the growing use of both commercial airline premium cabins and business aviation.

Despite the higher cost of such travel, businesses are weighing new factors such as a tight labor market and the resulting necessity to extract every ounce of productivity from travel while ensuring employees do not burn out. In fact, a recent study by Airline Reporting Corp. challenges the wisdom of emphasizing cost savings.

“Cost savings are roughly one percent of the economic value added by road warriors, so it makes much more sense to focus on how to increase the road warrior’s value-add,” says Scott Gillespie, ARC’s head of analytics. “This means increasing the road warrior’s trip success rate and their willingness to travel, and decreasing their burnout and attrition risks.”

Reed & Mackay group CEO Fred Stratford agrees. “With work-life balance now ranking among the top priorities for candidates, travel policies have taken on a new level of significance,” he said in a recent European CEO column. “As such, there is a commonality to the frustrations we hear from travelers: Don’t make me wait at the airport; give me the best flight times so I can reduce my days away from home; and make sure I have decent WiFi so that I can actually work. Business travelers are time-poor, which often means jam-packed schedules with high-value meetings,” he explained.

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Democratizing Travel Perks
There is no better example of industry changes than a report in The Wall Street Journal which concluded travel perks are no longer for the highest earners. In fact, corporations are wisely using big data to rethink travel.

Indeed, “Topaz International of Kennebunkport, Maine, a firm that audits airfare spending for companies, has launched a program for clients to identify road warriors, evaluate their value to the company and rearrange travel policy to make travel easier,” reported WSJ. “Easing travel friction can save money. Losing employees and recruiting and training replacements can be far more expensive. And company travel policies have become a competitive benefit for workers.”

Business aviation is one tool corporations are using more and more to ease the pain of travel. However, the business jet is not just for CEOs and sales people. Users include middle-management customer service and technical representatives responding to client needs. Companies are also turning to business aviation after realizing business aviation users are far more successful than their non-user counterparts. (See sidebar)

“Users have greater revenue, market share and profit growth, asset efficiency and customer and employee satisfaction,” says Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association. “Increasing employee productivity and efficiency drives straight to the bottom line,” Bolen says, citing results of the organization’s latest survey, Business Aviation and Top Performing Companies, which examined financial performance of the S&P 500 from 2012 and 2017. “It is not a surprise that America’s most innovative and most admired companies, best brands, best corporate citizens and best places to work use business aviation.”

JetNet IQ, which tracks business aircraft usage worldwide, reported aircraft logged a 49.3 percent jump in flight hours in the past three years, the result of changing business needs increasing flight demand.

“People think flying private is much more expensive, but they don’t consider the productivity and other benefits they get which can be seen in the surveys of business travelers flying commercial,” according to Greg Raiff, CEO of Private Jet Services (PJS). “It is all the uncertainty surrounding airlines. Delays, cancellations and the resulting inability to get to your destination are major problems. Even the General Accountability Office reported that full flights mean getting another seat to your destination can take three days.”

Compounding this uncertainty is the dramatic loss of air service to many small and medium-sized communities. Nearly a quarter of respondents to a new Harris Poll survey cited the complete lack of air service and more than half cited the inefficiency of using airlines.

Krane notes the latest Harris Poll released in October shows business aviation filling gaps in commercial airline services. “Most aircraft fly to towns with little air service with 31.5 percent of flights to airports without any commercial service,” Krane says. “Users cite schedule flexibility as top drivers with 51.6 percent noting travelers keeping business schedules that could not be met by scheduled airlines. A significant portion of users are technical specialists, managers and company employees as well as customers who spend an average of 63 percent of their time on board on work compared to only 42 percent productivity on commercial airlines.”

More, Not Less, Efficient
“Increasing creature comforts for road warriors does not address the inefficiencies which drive up the costs of flying commercial,” Raiff says. “The out-and-back-in-one-day airline business trip is a thing of the past. That means business aviation is now seen as an investment in time, not simply a cost. The hub-and-spoke system is great for airline efficiency but not for passenger efficiency and that is why more and more are turning to business aviation.”

A survey from the Business Travel Coalition reported five out of six business travelers are cutting back on airline travel citing the fact it is more difficult and stressful, there are fewer nonstops and reduced flight frequencies.

Interestingly, the airline/airport hassle factor is cited as the number one reason for not traveling which translates to rising missed-opportunity costs for businesses. Indeed, the US Travel Association, in survey after survey since 2013, cited hassles as the reason 32 million trips are not taken each year, costing the US economy more than $24 billion. USTA also said in its latest survey, 53 percent of frequent business travelers and 55 percent of frequent leisure travelers said they would increase travel if airport hassles could be reduced or eliminated.

One metric really tells the story of our crowded skies. In 2017, according to the US Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics, US airlines carried 201 million more passengers than they did in 2005 on 1.6 million fewer flights.

And, despite billions invested in the premium class experience, 82 percent say they have seen nothing that would make them travel more.And, despite billions invested in the premium class experience, 82 percent say they have seen nothing that would make them travel more.

Raiff also pointed to changes driven by Millennials, saying their travel needs make the case for business aviation even stronger.

In fact, a European Business Aviation Association study Expanding Horizons: How Millennials See the Future of Business Aviation concludes Millennials – natives of the sharing economy – are embracing business aviation, with 62 percent of respondents believing it provides more flexibility and freedom.

A key indicator that the increase in business aviation is not just about using aircraft more is the development of new business aviation membership models such as JetSuite, Surf Air and Wheels Up, which all report 60 percent of passengers are new to business aviation.

In It for the Short Haul
Raiff points out a great problem with commercial aviation – the loss of the less-than-500-mile commercial flights. Most business aviation flights are between two and two-and-a-half hours, meaning the industry is clearly filling the void.

It is little wonder that corporations are turning to business aviation. Indeed, those that don’t risk losing a precious competitive advantage, one that recognizes US businesses are not only competing against each other but against competitors in the rest of the world.

Savings with Shuttles
Many companies, such as Intel and Ohio-based Cummins, Inc., leverage business aviation by developing corporate shuttles using 30- to 50-seat aircraft to provide regular air lift between corporate facilities or those in remote locations. There are now about 100 companies using corporate shuttles, according to Quality Resources’ Lucille Fisher, a member of NBAA’s Shuttle Working Group, who cites the limited commercial flights and airline inefficiencies for the rise in popularity.

According to studies done by Bombardier and Embraer in the 2000s, corporate shuttles provide $53 million in travel cost savings over a decade compared to $30 million in costs of operating a shuttle over the same period. Annually, Bombardier pegged the total cost of a shuttle operation at $3 million compared to $5.3 million in commercial travel-related costs.

“Shuttles are not only convenient, they get employees home in the evening,” explains Jeff Moneypenny, vice president-sales for Ultimate Jet Charter. “They demonstrate the company is investing in employees, making an additional commitment to provide them with a higher quality of life.

”While corporate shuttles meet regular travel needs between facilities, they do not address the flexibility needed when moving hundreds of people to corporate events and having them arrive rested and ready to work, according to PJS.

With the vast changes to commercial aviation networks, business aviation has put to rest two old aviation axioms that continue to plague commercial passengers. The first is “you can’t get there from here” and the second is “if you have time to spare, go by air.”