Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, has long been an advocate for the business traveler, shining a spotlight on airlines' monopolistic practices and relentlessly pursuing fairer fares. He says that low-fare carriers are here to stay, and that the airlines are at a historic crossroads. “True structural change will have to happen,” Mitchell stresses. “The old premise was: When the economy comes back, business travelers will once again go ‘uptown’ — back to the major carriers — and pricing power will return. That's outdated thinking. Now, the low-fare carriers have better aircraft, route structures, great management teams, and passengers are treated well.” Furthermore, he points out, while air travel management used to be a “corporate backwater,” it's now front and center on the CFO's desk. Companies are paying much more attention to their travel spending.

Mitchell cautions meeting planners to be alert to the threat of airline failures. “They book so far in advance, they should be worried about who is going to survive and who is not.” Other advice:

  • As carriers continue to cut costs over the next few years, expect “volatility in the number of seats available and schedule changes.”

  • “Constantly look at contract terms with a fresh set of eyes,” and consider some kind of interruption insurance.

  • The good news: Mitchell believes a simpler fare structure and lower business fares are coming as the majors try to regain the trust and loyalty of business travelers and meeting organizers.

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