United CEO says business travel demand won’t recover until 2024

United Airlines doesn’t expect demand for business travel to return to pre-coronavirus levels until 2024, CEO Scott Kirby said Thursday.

Demand for corporate flights should start to recover by late 2021 or early 2022 but won’t get fully back to normal for another four years, Kirby said. The projection comes as large companies cut back of their staffing and keep what workers they do have at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it will come back to normal,” Kirby said on United’s earnings conference call. “I’ve been fond of saying the first time someone loses a sale to a competitor who showed up in person is the last time they try to make a sales call on Zoom.”

“Business travel is incredibly important, really important,” he added. “It was our bread and butter before I think it will be our bread and butter in the future.”

Kirby’s comments came a day after Chicago-based United reported a $1.8 billion net loss for the third quarter as the virus crisis kept the airline industry in a chokehold. US carriers’ passenger volumes in the last week were still 64 percent before last year’s levels even though they’ve recovered from their lows in the spring, according to industry group Airlines for America.

United started furloughing more than 13,000 workers earlier this month after federal aid meant to keep them on the payroll expired.

United shares were down about 4.4 percent at $34.04 as of 12:39 p.m. Thursday.