< PrevNext > 2021 Business Travel Buyer's Handbook Working with Airlines Buyers should brace for change as they return to the air negotiation table. By Michael B. Baker / June 17, 2021 / Contact Reporter Share Download Chapter While airlines have yet to see a measurable return in corporate travel volumes, they have begun building back their networks as leisure travel rebounds, particularly in regions with higher vaccination rates. Corporate travel buyers and airlines alike are hopeful that business travel will begin its true recovery in the fall. Airline sales leaders say that, by and large, their corporate clients still have been extending contracts rather than jumping into negotiations without a clear picture of their post-pandemic travel needs. Once it’s time to return to the negotiating table, however, the airlines will be an eager audience. Although airlines report pent-up leisure demand already is outpacing pre-pandemic levels in some markets, they really need the lucrative corporate customers back to return to profitability. As such, airlines likely will be open to accommodating their corporate clients, though needs will have changed. Buyers will still want to get the best deals for their companies’ bottom lines, but they also might have a heightened focus on the traveler experience as they ask their employees, some of whom might still be trepidatious, about getting back on the road. There could be more emphasis on ensuring direct flights, reducing travelers’ times spent in airports as much as possible. Travel patterns also could be altered significantly for companies that are still allowing a large portion of their workforce to do their jobs remotely. Airline offerings will have changed, too. In general, airlines are being cautious in matching their networks to demand as they seek to recover their financial standing, and while they will respond to where their corporate travelers need to fly, it could be on smaller aircraft, reduced frequencies or lower levels of service. They also will be more dependent on their partner carriers to fill in the gaps, which means some buyers might need to bring new carriers into their programs. What hasn’t changed is that airlines will still be most interested in clients who can demonstrate the ability to shift share and deliver high-value business, and that begins with assessing air program data.