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American, Southwest Airlines See Leisure Travel Rebound Faster Than Business

Travel at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport remains about half of pre-pandemic levels but as more people get vaccinated, some airlines expect that will change.

Business travelers are responsible for most of American Airlines’ profits — they fly more — and more often fly first class. Jack McCain, state and local government affairs director with American Airlines, said business travel is coming back but won’t likely return to pre-pandemic levels anytime soon. 

“I think in the near term we’ll see a boom in leisure travel because people do want to get out and explore and then we will most likely see a longer term and less steep return of business travel,” he said during a webinar hosted by the Greater Phoenix Economic Council.

McCain said American’s Phoenix hub has fared better during the pandemic than bigger markets like Los Angeles and New York. While the airline’s overall business was down about 50% in October, he said it declined less than 40% at Sky Harbor.

In February, Southwest Airlines started flying to Chicago O’Hare Airport and Sarasota, Florida, and last Thursday, the airline announced it would begin service to Bozeman, Montana, and Destin/Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. In March, Southwest will begin service from Phoenix to Cancun, Mexico.

“We are seeing stronger demand on those leisure-oriented markets and that’s in line with our expectations, this sector has just been quicker to recover and it continues to improve,” said Andrea Goodpasture, director of airport affairs with Southwest Airlines. “On the business front, that travel still remains somewhat depressed but we know that our customers are working really hard to get their employees back on the road.”

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.