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Opinion
Brooke Sutherland

Business Travel Has a Pulse, and It’s Growing Stronger

Despite the omicron setback for airlines, the longer-term prospects are looking bright.

Smaller businesses have proved much more willing than larger corporations to put workers back on planes.

Smaller businesses have proved much more willing than larger corporations to put workers back on planes.

Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

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The rapid spread of the omicron variant has sent office workers back to their kitchen tables and put the business travel recovery on pause. But the longer-term outlook is actually looking brighter these days.

First, it’s important to note that despite the doomsday predictions early in the pandemic, business travel isn’t dead so much as hobbled. Before the omicron variant sent demand plummeting, domestic corporate volumes in early December were about 40% below 2019 levels, United Airlines Holdings Inc. said this week when it reported fourth-quarter earnings. That’s a meaningful recovery; on the same measure, corporate travel was 90% below pre-pandemic levels in the early part of the second quarter and down 60% as of June. United expects the rehabilitation trend to get back on track by the end of February as the surge in cases ebbs and more companies start to treat Covid-19 as endemic. But there’s clearly still a ways to go.