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How Business Travel is Likely to Change in 2017: Trends to Watch for When Flying

January 26th, 2017 /

“You only learn so much from reading Forbes articles,” my seatmate told me. We were somewhere above the Midwest, en route to San Francisco, as we talked airline improvements and travel hopes for 2017. I’d lucked out by getting a seat next to an industrial engineer who specialized in airline operations.

She tipped me off to a few upcoming fleet changes, but the conversation sparked my curiosity. What else should I expect from the coming year?

It turns out that US companies are expecting a significant rise in total number of business trips in 2017—meaning that there will be more professionals than ever filling the seats next to me. So will advances in flight tech and airline performance finally start catering to the business travel market? The results are mixed.

business travel in 2017 will be much more connected

Business travelers can rejoice at new in-flight tech trends. | Image by Flickr user Matthew Grapengieser (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Flight Tech Will Become More Advanced

I’m not an aviation geek by any means. I tend to care a lot more about what’s inside the cabin. So I’m excited about what this year will bring for passengers looking for a better experience.

Most notably, you can expect to see a huge expansion of in-flight WiFi worldwide. Delta and United have most flights covered, and JetBlue recently equipped their entire 227 plane fleet with FlyFi. Business travelers can finally expect to get work done on just about any flight. Connectivity is never free, but Alaska has also taken the unusual step of making messaging apps like FB Messenger, iMessenger, and WhatsApp available at no cost, with possible plans to expand this service to Virgin America after an initial test run. I’m hopeful that the trend catches on.

Expanding connectivity does come with increased risks. If we weren’t paranoid enough about regular airport security, we now have to add cyber security to the list. Everything from planes to gates will soon be connected via the Internet of Things—and could be hacked if not properly secured. The risks range from losing your rewards point to losing your identity, and while security companies are perfectly positioned to make bundles, there’s not much that business travelers can do besides ensure proper security measures on personal devices.

what's ahead for 2017 business travel?

Before long, everything outside an airport gate will be connected via the Internet of Things | Image by Flickr user Cimexus (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Airline Performance Will Continue to Improve

On a more positive note, as of the end of 2016, leading carriers are now on time for more than 80% of flights—with the big four ranking above the national average. Air traffic control has a lot of say in which flights leave on time and who gets stuck taxiing for an hour, but rumors of the new POTUS investing in traffic controllers and other infrastructure suggest we may continue to see improvements.

A decreased carbon footprint was also a newsworthy part of United’s recent guarantee, which leads me to believe that the airline industry is finally trying to get on board the environmental protection train. If United does not successfully improve fuel efficiency by 1.5% annually (promising 50% carbon dependency by 2050) then corporate clients will be reimbursed for their fares. Worst case, companies will earn compensation—best case, we’re looking at a healthier planet.

business travel trends for this year are something of a mixed blessing

Airlines and airports are slowly but surely becoming more green in 2017 | Image by Flickr user Azur Cosplay Photography (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Prices Aren’t so Favorable for Business Travelers

In general, because fuel prices and economic growth abroad are both low, airfare inflation will remain fairly stable in 2017. But Delta in particular has jumped on the “decreased capacity” trend. In layman’s terms, this means that the airline will be jacking up their fare prices.

Delta president Glen Hauenstein quotes increased business travel as one reason the airline will be increasing fares—an interesting statement that reveals exactly how much airlines are willing to take advantage of business travelers who must fly. They can, after all, raise fares without losing customers. This, combined with new lowest-of-the-low fares targeted toward economy fliers, means that business travelers aren’t going to be doing much saving in 2017.

on-time flights are one business travel trend I'm happy about

On-time arrivals are finally getting into the acceptable range for most domestic airlines | Image by Flickr user George Kelly (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Mostly Sunny Forecast for 2017

But even if we’re not getting any significant financial breaks from airlines any time soon, we are definitely seeing improvement in other areas. Business travelers can look forward to completing 2017 in a better equipped, more environmentally sound, and more tech savvy environment.

Of course, I prefer supporting companies that cater specifically to the needs of business travelers, which is why I choose to fly Virgin America, and why I book hotels through JetLux—working with staff who give you significant corporate discounts, room upgrades, and impeccable customer service makes the travel experience so much more enjoyable.

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