Skift Take

Outpacing recovery in economy cabin, business cabin revenues have surpassed pre-pandemic highs despite the slow return of business travelers globally.

The remarkable recovery of the global aviation industry in 2022 was something the majority of industry observers did not see coming. 

Revenues are back to normal for most airlines, with a few even exceeding 2019 levels. Skift Research’s latest report, Business Class Recovery: State of Airline Premium Cabin Capacity, dives into passenger revenues to see how the business cabin class is performing amid continued discussion of the slow return of business travelers.

We found that business cabin revenues of the leading U.S. network carriers, namely Delta, United, and American Airlines, were 13% higher in 2022 than they were in 2019. 

The report shares insights regarding the allocation of capacity across different cabin classes, focusing on business and economy. Additionally, it conducts an in-depth analysis of the revenue derived from these two categories.

The research is based on Skift Research’s proprietary methodology, tracking  the aggregate capacity and income of business and economy cabins for 11 major airlines from across the world

Below is an exclusive excerpt from this report, with the full report available here.

Uneven Capacity Recovery

The analysis reveals that the restoration of capacity and revenue has exhibited disparities across different regions globally. At the industry level, the overall recovery rate for business cabin seats in 2022 stands at approximately 83%.

Notably, North America has emerged as the frontrunner in terms of capacity recovery, with an impressive 94% overall recovery rate. The remaining regions have exhibited significant disparities, with Europe experiencing a decline to 77%, the Middle East to 65%, and the Asia Pacific region to a mere 50% of its 2019 levels. 

The resurgence of the industry as a whole is being propelled by North America, which accounts for over 50% of business class cabins worldwide. In 2019, Skift Research found that North American airlines held a majority share of 52% of global capacity of business class seats. By 2022, that percentage rose to  59%. This notable rise can be mostly attributed to the weakened recovery of various other regions against the pandemic.

The airlines are generating substantial revenues from the business cabin. The revenues generated from business cabins throughout all regions in 2022 have achieved a minimum of 75% of the pre-COVID levels.

The Middle East region, having achieved just 65% recovery in capacity, has successfully regained its pre-pandemic revenue levels. The European region is currently facing ongoing challenges in the implementation of capacity deployment.

However, it is worth noting that revenues generated from the business cabin segment have already reached an impressive level of almost 90% recovered. North American carriers have successfully surpassed their pre-COVID revenue levels, thereby making a substantial contribution to the overall revenue growth of the industry. They contribute about half of the overall income generated from the business cabin globally.


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Tags: Airline Capacity, business travel

Photo credit: Business Class seat in Aer Lingus. Frugal Flyer / Unsplash

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