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Airlines Shift Focus from Business Hubs to Leisure Destinations

OAG data shows the world’s busiest international route is Orlando-San Juan, while top US domestic routes are all from Atlanta to Florida

As COVID-19 travel restrictions continue to constrain business travelers, airlines are shifting their focus from business centers to leisure hotspots. As a result, the latest report from OAG, the aviation data provider, shows the busiest international route in the world is now Orlando-San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In February that route had 135,244 seats scheduled. The service falls under the international classification even though US citizens do not need a passport for entry into Puerto Rico.

OAG reports the four busiest US domestic routes were all from Atlanta to Florida destinations, with Fort Lauderdale leading, followed by Orlando, Miami and Tampa. Rounding out the top 10 city pairs were Denver-Phoenix, Dallas/Fort Worth-Las Vegas, DFW-LAX, Los Angeles-Seattle, Minneapolis/St. Paul-Phoenix and Phoenix-Seattle.

The news comes as American Airlines announces increased services out of its Miami International hub,  including new flights to Tel Aviv and Paramaribo in Suriname. The carrier is also planning to boost frequencies to the Caribbean and Latin America from MIA.

Behind Orlando-San Juan on the OAG list, the highest-capacity international routes are Delhi-Dubai and Cairo-Jeddah. Last month, Dubai-London Heathrow was the route with the most seats, but new restrictions for UK travelers sharply reduced those numbers.

The top 10 domestic routes globally were almost all in Asia, led by Jeju-Seoul Hanoi-Ho Chi Minh City and Sapporo-Tokyo taking the top three spots.

The shift in capacity toward sunnier destinations reflects growing signs of a comeback for leisure travel, while business travel bookings continue to lag. According to a recent study of US travelers, 81 percent plan to travel in the next six months.

That’s a jump of 16 points since the last travel tracking poll of 1,000 US adults from research firm Longwoods International in mid-January, and the highest percentage since the beginning of the pandemic last March.

However indications are most of that travel planning is for price-sensitive vacation travelers. Before the pandemic, business travelers accounted for half of US airline revenue but just 30 percent of the trips, according to Airlines for America.

That still lays out a long road to recovery for the airline industry, although a recent survey from Delta Air Lines  found half of the corporate travel managers responding say they are expecting between 50 percent and 100 percent of their domestic travel to come back to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021.

As for the balance of companies returning their travelers to the road, the most recent Global Business Travel Association BTI Outlook predicts a 21 percent increase in business travel spending in 2021 with most of the growth expected to come at the end of the year as vaccinations increase globally.

Accelerated growth is forecast through subsequent years with business travel spend of $1.4 trillion by the end of 2024, nearly equaling pre-pandemic levels.