Business Travelers Look For Alternatives

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As one wag put it, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's actions last week "deemed an entire state of matter to be a security risk" -- as well as business necessities like cellphones and laptop computers. But there were no new rules in effect for the average general or business flight, something for which the industry was thankful. And busy. According to Adam Aircraft, the company's Web site experienced a 20-percent increase in "hits" late in the week, which company spokeswoman Shelly Simi attributed to "people looking for alternative travel and ways to avoid the airlines." It didn't stop with Adam: The New York Times reported many so-called "jet card" operators saw a surge in bookings and inquires.

According to the newspaper, traditional charter operators and charter brokers, like Sentient, saw a much higher activity level than for the same period last year, which the Times labeled as a "slow travel period." And Eclipse Aviation President and CEO Vern Rayburn last week told CNBC his company had seen a 100-percent increase in inquiries in just 48 hours. All of which is good news for the industry, for now. Whether the increased interest levels can be converted into sales is one thing. What the airlines think will happen to their market share -- and can do about it, perhaps through new and higher-volume demands for user fees -- is another. For now, however, the marketing departments at airframers and at many operators were working overtime, trying to convert the increased interest into sales. If current restrictions continue, if airline service continues its steady decline or if new security threats are perceived, business travelers won't have much choice but to either cancel their plans, drive or fly aboard private aircraft.