One silver lining to the dark economic cloud is that the growing credit crisis and resulting travel cutbacks at many companies is likely to end the upward creep in airline fares, says Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, a Radnor, Pa., organization seeking to influence policy on issues affecting business travelers.
“In 2008, they [airlines] hoped to cut capacity 10 percent while raising prices 20 percent. The problem is, very few people are buying at those prices. This means that the recent fare hikes are coming off the table,” he says. “It also should mean that airlines will chase any pieces of business they can and will be more aggressive in going after group business.”
But while flights may be cheaper, Mitchell says that some places just won’t be as accessible as before. “And the seat-capacity adjustments in many destinations are not over yet,” he warns. “The big problem for meeting planners is that you don’t know where more seats are going to disappear. So if you are planning six months out, how can you be sure a destination is going to work for you after you’ve booked it?” He adds that major business-travel hubs are likely to be spared further cuts. “If you want to just plan an event and sleep at night, you probably should use those cities.”
As for the proliferation of airline fees for everything from checked luggage to bottled water, Mitchell says to get used to it. “Airlines have to find a way to become profitable on a sustainable basis, and that means they have to first unbundle their services, from pillows and blankets to sodas and food to phone bookings,” he says. “This is going to be a permanent thing.”