After an economic slump that put the brakes on business travel, the corporate world appears to be redeploying workers again to attend out-of-town meetings, conferences and conventions.
But business travelers are hitting the road with a mind to pinch pennies by flying coach, cutting back on meals and even sharing hotel rooms with colleagues, according to a new survey of 700 business travelers nationwide.
The survey, released last week by Embassy Suites Hotels, found that 71% of travelers say they have changed their business travel habits because of the continuing economic woes.
To save money, 29% of the travelers surveyed said they fly only coach, while 27% said they are cutting back on meals and other expenses.
Meanwhile, 24% of business travelers said they are now booking hotel rooms that their companies consider a good value, and 17% said they try to share a room with a colleague.
John Lee, Embassy Suites' vice president for marketing, said the survey results mirror business trends at his hotel chain.
"Over the past 15 months we've seen a softening on the business traveler side of the mix while the leisure traveler contribution, especially on weekends, has remained steady for us," he said. "Good news is, we are currently seeing a steady uptick in business travelers."
E-mail case against Delta to start in fall
Kate Hanni has been a vocal critic of the airline industry since 2006, when she founded a nonprofit group, the Coalition for an Airline Passengers' Bill of Rights, to protect passengers from excessive airline delays.
But her group's efforts were dealt a severe blow in August, she said, when someone hacked into her computer and stole more than 32,000 e-mails and a list of more than 2,000 donors to the group.
"I was devastated," she said.
In a lawsuit filed in October, Hanni contends that the culprits were Delta Air Lines Inc. and Metron Aviation, an air-traffic consulting firm based in Virginia.
The key to her complaint is a former Metron analyst named Frederick Foreman.
In an affidavit filed with the lawsuit, Foreman says he was fired from Metron on Sept. 25 for helping Hanni collect information on lengthy airline delays. When Foreman asked his bosses for proof, they showed him e-mails between him and Hanni, according to the affidavit.
Foreman says his supervisors told him they got the e-mails from Delta, a Metron client that was angry that he was communicating with Hanni.
In a statement, Delta called the allegations "absurd."
A Delta spokesman said the airline did receive some e-mails between Foreman and Hanni. But the airline said they came from an online aviation discussion group, whose founder sent them to Delta after Hanni inadvertently sent them to the group. A Metron representative could not be reached for comment.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Houston, asks for $11 million in damages. A trial is scheduled to begin in November.
O.C. airport has plan in case of delay
Passenger rights advocates won a big victory in December when the Obama administration adopted fines against airlines that strand passengers on delayed airplanes for three hours or more. The fines could go as high as $27,500 per passenger — a penalty of up to $5.5 million for a plane with 200 passengers.
At least one Southern California airport has drawn up a plan to get passengers off delayed flights.
John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana has designated areas north and south of the terminal where airlines may unload passengers before the three-hour deadline expires.
The areas are set aside so airlines can park planes that can't take off because of bad weather or other problems — but that can't return to the crowded gates.
A mobile staircase has also been set aside so passengers can exit the planes, said airport spokeswoman Jenny Wedge. Airport shuttle buses would then take passengers back to the terminal, she said.
But the airport may not need to use the plan very often.
The last time the Orange County airport had a flight delayed more than three hours was Dec. 31, 2008, when a United Airlines flight was stuck on the tarmac for three hours and six minutes.