Of the 2 million people clogging airport security lines and gate areas again each day, one crowd is still largely missing: business travelers.

Their absence is noteworthy because they are a key source of revenue and profit, underpinning a record-breaking stretch of financial gain for U.S. airlines that ended with the coronavirus.

Business travelers tend to pay higher fares, and that is especially true on international flights, which are also still deeply depressed by the pandemic and travel restrictions around the globe. Because their fares subsidize other passengers, their absence is leading to higher leisure fares on many routes, experts say.

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A plane sits on the tarmac at a South Carolina airport on March 01, 2020 in Columbia, South Carolina.

Recovery may take years

Business travelers also spend money on hotels, meals and other things. The U.S. Travel Association estimates that domestic and international business travelers spent more than $300 billion here in 2019. The group forecasts that dwindled to about $95 billion last year and won’t fully recover to 2019 levels until 2024.

During calls with Wall Street analysts last week, U.S. airlines said business travel has picked up in recent weeks but is still down more than half from this time in 2019.

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