Exploring the impact of communication technologies on business air travel.

Author:Welch, Melinda


Business travel has changed in the years following the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Since this time, airlines have entered into bankruptcy and travel is substituted by emerging technologies, such as videoconferencing (Santra & Giri, 2009). In this study I assessed the needs of the business traveler to discover when they are still finding the need to travel via commercial airline versus using these emerging technologies for business meetings.


September 11, 2001 was a devastating day in the United States; but, no one could have predicted the impact it would have on the future of commercial airlines (Chi & Baek, 2012). In the subsequent years, airlines began filing bankruptcy as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, and the rising cost of jet fuel began to become an industrial challenge (Bhadra & Kee, 2008). Consequently, management began to look to technology for less expensive ways to connect with clients, employees, and shareholders. Although these technologies can be an effective substitution for face-to-face meetings (Santra & Giri, 2009), there has to be a combination of both computer-assisted communication and face-to-face meetings (Celuch & Murphy, 2010). Technology has enabled work teams to become more dispersed geographically. However, the need for frequent communication among workers is still critical to the team's success (Reed & Knight, 2010).

There is a gap of literature regarding why business travelers conduct business using face-to-face meetings or through the use of computer-assisted technology. Aguilera (2009) explored the reasoning behind the choice for businesses to have workers travel via commercial airlines; but, this needs to be explored further. Aguilera stated that the more complex the issue, the more likely it will require a face-to-face meeting. I sought to fill the gap by asking why business travelers choose to travel instead of using emerging technologies. The research provided in this study will help contribute to an improved business practice for commercial airlines and other hospitality industries that focus on meeting the needs of the business traveler.


According to Pearlman and Gates (2010), companies have to innovate with technology when it comes to business meetings. Emerging technology is allowing people to meet virtually all across the globe, and this is affecting companies with decreasing budgets and impacting the airline industry. The airline industry suffered a 6.1% decrease in air traffic during the 2008 recession and is still struggling to recover with gas prices continuing to rise and a significant drop in passengers (Franke & John, 2011). The general business problem is the decline in business travelers using air travel has caused a decline in other industries that are tied closely with commercial airlines (Pearlman & Gates, 2010). These industries include hospitality services, for example hotels and other meeting facilities. The specific business problem addressed in this study is the need to identify when business travelers are choosing air travel instead of using the many technology choices available.


The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to explore the lived perceptions and experiences of business people who are choosing to travel by commercial airline versus using numerous available emerging technologies for business purposes. I interviewed 60 participants at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia using a modified Van Kaam method (Moustakas, 1994). The interviews were audio recorded and then transcribed. The resulting data was formatted in matrices to identify trends.

The population for this study was current business travelers in the United States, 18 years or older, who chose to travel via commercial airlines for specific business needs.


The purpose of this qualitative study was to gain insights into the reasons why business travelers choose to travel via commercial airliners rather than use computer-assisted communication technologies. The need to understand when business travelers choose to travel is an important aspect in understanding the underlying business needs in the United States (Aguilera, 2008). Literature exists on the airline industry's potentially decrease in profits through the use of computer-assisted communication (Aquilera, 2008; Berry, 2008; Gustafson, 2012; Lu & Peeta, 2009). The literature consists of communication theories and the necessity of face-to-face meetings and computer-assisted communication being used to complement one another, rather than substitute forms of communication (Carare & Chang, 2010; Celuch & Murphy, 2010; Gustafson, 2012; Lu & Peeta, 2009; Majumdar, 2010; Santra & Giri, 2009). The central research question proposed for this study is as follows: Why do business travelers choose to travel versus using emerging technologies?

Subquestions for this study are as follows:

  1. Why would an employee travel for business instead of using a number of emerging technologies for communicating?

  2. What technologies do business travelers use when traveling, and which ones would help make them more productive?

  3. What technologies do business travelers use instead of choosing to travel, and what are the reasons behind this?



    It was assumed that the research was conducted in a natural setting. According to Creswell (2007), the importance of conducting the research in a natural setting is critical for the participant to feel at ease during the interview process. It was assumed that inductive analysis was the best method to interpret the data. Inductive analysis was used in this study to interpret the themes within the data. This analysis was used to accurately gain interpretation of the participants lived experience.

    It was assumed that the participants answered the questions honestly and to the best of their ability and that the focus was on the participants' meanings and interpretations of the questions. I was there to facilitate the questions and record responses, and did not have any influence on the participant. Also, to insure this, the participants and I had no prior knowledge of each other.

    The final assumption is that I conducted a thorough literature review prior to conducting analysis. This allowed me to know the multiple perspectives that participants might have to better interpret and analyze the data.


    The limitations are: (a) the study was restricted to the population within Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, (b) I was seeking a cross-section of interviews that relate to jobs and industry, and (c) the data were captured over the course of 3 days.

    The population is a concern with any qualitative phenomenological study (Bernard, 2000) and the main limitation is that the study was limited to the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. This could be a possible limitation due to the population traveling to certain locations that the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport services. Even though it is a major airport hub in the United States, it is not inclusive to every possible destination.

    Another limitation is the fact that the research is broken down into several industries and types of jobs of participants. This includes industry types that are classified as service, product or retail/distribution. The job categories are broken down within the industry as: sales/marketing, operations/manufacturing, consulting/outsourcing services, and company-based support services. While this list is not comprehensive of every possible business traveler, this could be considered a limitation within the study.

    The time period of data collection is another limitation to the study. The data were collected over a 3-day period. This is a short time of data collection and the participants might have had certain biases that occur out of my control during that time frame. Possible outside influences include: airport travel delays, weather or other possible unforeseen events.


    The scope of the study is that certain factors that are included which have significant influence on the direction of the outcome. These delimitations are the: (a) population, (b) the sample size, and (c) the location of the study. The population interviewed was business travelers that had lived experiences about what they need to be effective in their business while they travel. The sample size of 60 interviews is due to the desire to get experiences from a cross-section of industries and job types. The choice of location is Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, due my ability to gain access to the population at this location.


    The review of the academic and professional literature of this study is focused on three general areas: how airlines have affected business travelers, how businesses use technology to communicate, and how motivation-opportunity-ability theory applies to this study.

    Airlines and Business Travelers

    According to Lu and Peeta (2009), business travelers are still the primary targets of commercial airline industry, consisting of the majority of full-fare sales. However, this number has declined from 2001 to 2009, due primarily to terror threats, rising costs, and the introduction of teleconferencing (Lu & Peeta, 2009). Denstadli (2004) predicted that in the United States 7% of air travel for business purposes would be replaced by emerging technologies, like videoconferencing. Roy and Filiatrault (1998) stated that some of the larger risks to business travel included new business practices and emerging technology. Roy and Filatrault believed that videoconferencing in lieu of travel would create a large negative impact to the airline industry if the technology was widely adopted and used. However, Lu and Peeta believed that there is a relationship...

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