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United exec banks on return of business travel

written by Hannah Dowling | March 12, 2021

United Airlines Boeing 767 (Wikimedia)

United Airlines chief executive Scott Kirby has gone against industry consensus to suggest that business travel will return despite the dramatic COVID-induced changes to businesses.

Kirby made the comments on Thursday during a CAPA Live online event, where he said that despite the COVID crisis decimating demand for business travel, and the rise of online meeting and conferencing technologies, he is still banking on a return to normal business travel practices in the future.

He said that while many have predicted a near total death of business travel, he believes that ultimately, the importance of human relationships in the nature of business will prevail, and see business travel demand return to pre-pandemic levels.

“Business travel is not transactional, it’s about relationships. Going to events and having drinks, that’s where you get to know people. It’s a question of human nature instead of technology and human nature is not going to change,” Kirby said.

“The first time someone loses a sale to a competitor who showed up in person is the last time we’ll do a sales call on Zoom. People were having this conversation 25 years ago with video conferencing and the death of business travel, it was wrong then, it’s wrong now.”

Kirby made note that while his view is “not the consensus” and that “almost everyone disagrees”, he stands by his thoughts, though does believe a recovery in business travel demand will lag behind that of leisure travel.

While the airline cannot do much to help the business travel market recover faster, Kirby added, it will do all it can to make the transition back into business-as-usual as smooth as possible.


“Instead of it being a necessary but unwelcome part of your vacation or business trip, we’re trying to make the flying a better experience,” he said.

“I’ve condensed my job to two things – make all our employees proud and get our customers to like us – hopefully one day to love us.”

The comments were made two days after United was slapped with a class action lawsuit by passengers onboard the United 777 that suffered a single engine failure last month, with the plaintiffs citing emotional distress.

Chad Schnell, the passenger leading the class action, claimed that the incident caused him severe emotional distress, and accused the airline of failing to properly inspect and maintain its aircraft fleet, thus causing the incident.

The lawsuit, filed with a Colorado court, stated that the engine in question “spectacularly failed” before “scattering pieces of the engine over Colorado and leaving passengers to a horrifying view of a fire on the wing”.

“The 231 passengers on board UA328 were lucky to escape with their lives, as the flight managed to land with no serious physical injuries; however, it left these passengers in fear for their life for nearly 20 minutes,” it said.

“Nearly all of them experienced the emotional distress that would be a natural human emotional response to a near-death experience.”

In a statement released after the lawsuit was filed, United Airlines backed the actions of its employees and reiterated its emphasis on safety.

“We remain proud of the ability of our employees to safely get our UA328 customers back to the airport and ultimately on to their destination later that same day,” the statement said.

“Safety remains our highest priority – for our employees and our customers. Given the ongoing federal investigation, we will not comment further on this lawsuit at this time.”


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