Business travel is no longer the preserve of the flag-carrying or upmarket airlines. Competitive pricing and business-class-style services are helping low-fares airlines take considerable chunks out of the market.
EasyJet, for example, already offers speedy boarding and is also trialling allocated seating on 50 routes. “If the trial works well we’ll roll it out from October or November,” says UK director Paul Simmons.
It has built flexibility into its offering too. Flexi-fare tickets, introduced in 2011, allow travellers to change the date of their flight up to two hours before the scheduled departure time. And as many low-fares airlines have boosted their networks and punctuality, what Simmons refers to as the “product argument” for taking more expensive business class no longer applies.
This has caused a shift in the profile of business travellers on lower-cost airlines. “Our business passengers have historically been from smaller businesses. The trend now is that large companies want to talk to us,” Simmons says. And once they have made the decision to fly with the lower-priced carriers they are unlikely to revert back, a pattern which has been in evidence since the last global recession in 2001.
Business air travel policies tend to be shaped by the concern that employees “arrive in a fit state to work”, says Mark Avery, head of business services at assurance, tax and advisory service PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
PwC only uses business class for senior managers travelling on flights that are longer than three hours. The quality of business class is so high that the firm never uses first class.
“Anything under three hours is economy all the way—three hours is almost commuting.”