Airlines Stepping Up Efforts to Lure Corporate Travelers


While business travelers account for a small percentage of their customers, they are typically twice as lucrative for airlines.

Many carriers have been improving their fleets of aircraft, building new lounges, offering more amenities, and creating special programs for their corporate customers.

“We’re deeply focused on improving the experience for all customers, including Corporate customers,” a United Airlines spokesman said. “In the last year, we’ve made … investments in the corporate customer travel experience.”

United is continuing to expand Polaris, its reimagined Business Class across its aircraft. Right now, 70 of its aircraft have the new Business Class offering. The remaining aircraft will be retrofitted with the Polaris cabin by the end of the year.

The carrier has also opened Polaris Lounges in Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Newark, and Los Angeles in the last year.

Also, in the last year, United introduced Corporate Preferred, a program designed to offer travel benefits to its most loyal customers.

United Propel is a new program that provides benefits to mid-market companies such as better discounts and travel amenities though United Jetstream, a business portal designed for corporate customers and agency partners.

The airline has also updated its meetings offerings so that customers can have better options for booking and earning rewards when traveling for meetings.

For those traveling on behalf of a university or college, the airline has improved its Academia offering to provide more flexibility and additional benefits.

American Airlines has tried to attract business travelers by purchasing new aircraft.

Earlier this year, it introduced the Airbus A321neo (“new engine option,”) which adds about 400 nautical miles in range longer than the A321 because of improved fuel burn from the new engines.  The airline has ordered 100 of the jets with deliveries being made over the next few years. The jets have faster Wi-Fi, power at every seats and free wireless entertainment that customers can access on their own devices.

The planes also have larger overhead bins, Airbus’ new XL overhead bins. The airline will begin retrofitting its existing A321s with the same bins later this year. In 2011, American placed an order for 460 aircraft, including many manufactured by Airbus’ rival Boeing, which the airline says makes its fleet the youngest among U.S. airlines.

American last month also ordered 50 of Airbus’ smaller narrow-body planes, the A321XLR, which they will be able to fly from U.S. cities to Europe.

The carrier has also been improving its international Wi-Fi with satellite internet.

Additionally, American offers a Business Extra rewards program. Employees can still earn their AAdvantage miles but companies can also earn miles when their employees fly. Companies can use the points to pay for travel or to upgrade.

Delta Air Lines, meanwhile, has been updating its Business Class throughout most of its long-haul fleet, according to Onemileatatime.com. Delta One Suites are being installed on its A350-900s, A330-900neos, 777-200s, A330-200s, A330-300s, 767-300s, and 767-400s.

Delta has also been improving its service in the Main Cabin.

Starting in November, passengers in Economy Class on international routes will get a free “Welcome Aboard” cocktail featuring Bellinis, hot towel service, and mix-and-match options for premium appetizers and larger entrees.

Meals will be served on custom-made dinnerware and upgraded cutlery over a placemat. Passengers will get chocolates during the plane’s descent.

“This is about investing in every single customer who chooses Delta, no matter where they sit on the plane,” said Allison Ausband, Delta’s Senior Vice President for In-Flight Service.

The carrier also has a special suite of services for corporate travel managers called Delta Edge.

It includes SkyBonus, a loyalty program designed to let companies earn points redeemable for award flights, upgrades and more. Their employees can also still earn their SkyMiles program points.

The carrier also has a Delta Meetings Network to help corporations with a minimum of 15 passengers traveling from two or more cities organize meetings.

Alaska Airlines, meanwhile, this week opened its newest lounge in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport’s North Satellite terminal in Seattle. The 15,800 square-foot lounge has a fireplace, a spacious bar and runway views. It is Alaska’s third lounge at the airport.

Even international airlines are improving their offerings for business travelers.

Turkish Airlines recently announced that up to 30 new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft will join its young and fast-growing fleet over the next four years.

The aircraft will seat 300 passengers, including 30 Business Class seats. The 1-2-1 layout means that all Business Class passengers will have aisle access. They will also have enhanced privacy panels, personal closed stowage space, a self-care mirror, and a wide cocktail table.

Each seat has 44 inches of legroom and a 180 full-flat 76-inch seat bed length. For entertainment, passengers will have an 18-inch HD video display. Suede-like alcantara padding, which is commonly found in sports cars, will be used for the interior trimming of each Business Class seat.

“Turkish Airlines has been committed to continuously expanding its range of services on and off-ground as it grows in reach and flies to more international destinations than any other carrier in the world” said M. Ilker Aycı, Turkish Airlines’ Chairman of the Board and the Executive Committee.

Turkish Airlines, which travels to many U.S. cities including New York and Los Angeles, also has a Corporate Club for business travelers. It includes benefits such as exclusive annual discounts, upgrades, free tickets for hitting an annual quota, changes and cancellations without penalties, access to lounges, and a help desk exclusively for corporate club members and travel management companies.

The carrier has opened five new passenger lounges for Business Class, Miles & Smiles Elite Plus & Elite, Star Alliance Gold, and Corporate Club passengers. The new 60,000 square-foot lounge seats 765 guests and features 13 private suites with showers, along with meeting rooms, a library and prayer room. It also has a 130 square-foot museum as part of a collaboration with the arts and cultural institution, Istanbul Modern.

Travelers will soon get a brand-new airport at the airline’s hub in Turkey. That will result in new routes and flight times. Istanbul Airport will welcome 200 million passengers per year when completed.

Passengers also are allowed to stop-over in Istanbul on round-trip journeys to a number of destinations worldwide. Passengers can stay in a five-star hotel for two days on Business Class trips and in a four-star hotel for one day on Economy Class trips—free of charge.

Once they get to their destinations, Business Class passengers have access to an Exclusive Drive, a chauffeur-driven, luxury vehicle that will pick them up for their flight or at the airport upon landing.

While in the air, Business Class passengers on long-haul and select medium-haul flights will get to enjoy cuisine from the airline’s Flying Chefs who produce Turkish and global cuisine on porcelain tableware.

Nancy Trejos is covering industry news for GBTA. She has been a journalist for more than two decades, covering various subjects and traveling all around the world. She was a business and leisure travel writer at USA TODAY from November 2012 to January 2019, writing about destinations, business travel, hotels, airlines, rental cars, and the sharing economy. Previously, she spent 13 years at The Washington Post covering travel, personal finance, education, and the war in Iraq. She is the author of the personal finance memoir "Hot Broke Messes: How to Have your Latte and Drink it Too." She has also worked for the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press and was a contributor at Latina magazine. She graduated from Georgetown University and lives in New York City.

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