Skift Take

Thanksgiving should be a breeze, operationally speaking, CEO Robert Isom said at Skift Aviation Forum on Wednesday. Where the future of aviation gets interesting is adapting to new flying habits of leisure and business passengers.

The world’s biggest airline is ready for Thanksgiving, having already battled through several hurricanes in recent months.

American Airlines CEO Robert Isom played down any potential pressure points that could emerge during the upcoming vacation. In the longer term, the challenge may be identifying new flying habits as corporate travel blurs even further with leisure.

Speaking at Skift Aviation Forum, held at the Statler Hotel in downtown Dallas, Isom was quizzed on stage on whether American was ready — with just a week to go.

“Look, we’ve had three hurricanes in the last few months,” he told Airline Weekly editor Edward Russell. “We’ve had all sorts of issues. But October was one of the best months in terms of performance … I look at the holidays as a busy time, but it’s something I know we’ve had more pilots on hand, more attendants and team members. We’re ready.”

Another reason behind the CEO’s confidence is that it is likely peak travel won’t be so peak-ish, as travelers spread out their vacations as they work remotely.

“We’re seeing demand is more spread out,” he said during the “Re-Imagining Global Connectivity — Expansion for The Decade Ahead” session.

Russell suggested: Is it a week-long Thanksgiving?

“It’s interesting. Travel, as it’s come back, we’re doing things differently. People are spreading out, going past nine-to-five. I see it all over the place, and that bodes well. For our airports, and airlines, we’re not all beholden to the structure of the past.”

Isom said smaller businesses were now outpacing travel from the larger corporates, and there was now a lot of of travel that was falling outside “the old corporate travel policy.”

The trick is to now identify what is different, and the CEO believes it’s an upside that’s here to stay.

“As we look at travel going forward, especially corporate travel, people will see it as a benefit, rather than an expense,” he said. “As people get back to the office, and the pandemic wanes further, it’s an upside.”

Isom acknowledged that it used to be fairly easy to identify the typical corporate traveler, who’d fly out and back for a day. Now it’s about leveraging data, and there were “obvious ways” to track business passengers, including analyzing their spending behavior.

Airline CEOs are typically bullish, and Isom doesn’t believe the macroeconomic uncertainty rippling across the tech sector means much.

“People have become more confident,” he argued. “The airline business is still 10 percent smaller than 2019. It’s not pent-up demand, it ‘s demand coming back at a level of 2019. Recession or no recession, demand is strong, and it’s at at a level where airlines are trying to get capacity back … over time, as we are able to meet demand, we’ll see where things go. No matter how the economy gyrates, we’ve got enough demand to support the capacity.”

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Tags: airlines, american airlines, business travel, corporate travel, remote work, saf2022, skift live, thanksgiving

Photo credit: American Airlines CEO Robert Isom speaking on stage at Skift Aviation Forum in Dallas, TX, November 2022. Skift

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