GENEVA – Airlines worldwide filled 21 percent fewer executive class seats in February than the same month a year ago as fewer people took long-haul business trips, industry group IATA said on Thursday.
The data suggest more trouble ahead for airlines, which have seen numbers of coveted premium class passengers shrink along with the economic downturn that has reduced demand for corporate travel.
Flights within Central America, between Africa and the Far East, and across the Pacific had the most vacant premium seats, according to the International Air Transport Association, which looks only at cross-border flights.
“Average travel distances are now getting shorter,” it said in its latest snapshot of the top-tier air segment.
IATA, which represents 230 carriers including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, United Airlines and Emirates, has said the airline industry would lose $2.5 billion in 2009 as a result of lower demand.
The industry lost $8.5 billion in 2008, pinched by high oil prices and the onset of the global credit and financial crisis.
IATA estimated that premium revenues fell about 30 percent in February as a result of the decline in high-end passenger traffic and aggressive fare reductions by airlines worldwide.
“This revenue stream is key for the profitability of most network airlines and so this reversal will be putting significant pressure on first quarter financial performance,” it said.