Skift Take

Business travelers went quickly from a fear of catching Covid-19 in 2021 to feeling utterly miserable in 2022 when faced with the daunting prospect of having to fly, such was the chaos across airports in Europe and the U.S. This year, caution prevailed.

It was the news everyone was waiting for. Finally the U.S. government set a date, Nov 8. 2021, to reopen its borders.

Our memories have faded since the Biden administration made the announcement in the middle of October. The original ban was even imposed by a different president. It’s hard now to imagine just how symbolic, and how much of a catalyst, the announcement that transatlantic flights (for foreign vaccinated passengers) could restart was for the travel industry.

It could have been good. Unfortunately chaos ensued in the latter part of 2021, and 2022 became the year of the cautious traveler.

Nervousness (and corporate liability) around catching coronavirus transformed into nonchalance. Instead of the risk of being infected with a respiratory disease, there was now every chance of being stuck for days in an airport. Or having your flight canceled. Or being stuck on the tarmac for hours, then having the flight canceled. If you did take off, was your bag even on the plane?

A report published in July this year by SAP Concur summed it up: employees were experiencing a “continuing sense of unhappiness and uncertainty” due to the amount of business travel they were expected to do.

“More travel on fewer shoulders” was another finding. Experienced road warriors did what they could, perhaps taking up the slack from employees who joined as remote workers and had entered into a more virtual environment. Why travel when you can Zoom?

And with airfares soaring, the case for video conferencing just got stronger and stronger.

And where did it all start? Again, memories fade, but there were warnings at the outset. I interviewed Scott Solombrino, then head of the Global Business Travel Association, in March 2020, just days after emergency button had been pressed, and travel stopped.

He issued a warning that the shutdown had “caused structural issues on a longer term basis, region by region.” How right he was. He also identified how corporations had “literally just been put on hold” and that there would be a “huge movement of people trying to get out at one time” once travel policies resumed and restrictions were lifted.

Business travelers certainly felt those aftershocks in 2022.

On a more serious note, there was also plenty of caution exercised following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Was eastern Europe safe to visit? International SOS even found itself setting up multi-lingual crisis hotlines for emotional support, for evacuees, their families and staff members.

Apart from some pockets of calm, corporate travel was a mostly trepidatious affair in 2022.

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Tags: business traveler, covid-19, politics, transatlantic, uk, usa

Photo credit: Employees became wary of delays when traveling in 2022.   Johnny Cohen / Unsplash

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