Many remember the famed Concorde jets that used to race through the sky at record speed. Now, United Airlines (NASDAQ: UAL) is bringing that experience back. The airline just announced a deal to purchase 15 supersonic jets, with the goal of transporting passengers at ultra-fast speeds by 2029. So far, United estimates that its new fleet will be able to fly from its Newark, New Jersey, hub to London in just three and a half hours. Newark to Tokyo, meanwhile, could take just six hours.
Even more impressive is the fact that United's new supersonic jets are being designed to run on 100% sustainable aviation fuel, which would make it the first fleet to introduce net-zero carbon flights.
Great news for hotels
Travel and tourism took a major hit in the course of the pandemic as vacationers stayed close to home and business trips all but came to a halt. While a lack of travel clearly hurt airlines, it also dealt a whopping blow to hotels, which recorded record-low occupancy rates in 2020.
Right now, things are looking up for hotels as domestic travel has gotten the green light and vaccination rates have led many states to ease up on quarantine-related restrictions. But hotels still have a long road to recovery, especially since business travel might lag behind leisure travel for quite some time.
While United's new supersonic jets won't be available for commercial flights for quite some time, once they're put into use, it could be a boon to hotels. If passengers can traverse the globe in half the time it used to take, that makes business travel in particular more feasible.
In the coming years, remote work technology stands to threaten business travel in a very big way. After all, why pay to send someone to an overseas conference and have that person miss two workdays in the process when logging onto a conference remotely is just as doable? But with super-fast flights in the mix, workers who travel for business purposes will be subject to less transit time and fewer hours away from the office. And that could be a big deal for hotels down the line.
A wise investment
Over the past year, airlines stopped purchasing planes as the pandemic reduced the demand for flights. Now that things are improving, it makes sense for United to invest in a new fleet.
That said, it costs a lot of money to fly and maintain these supersonic jets, and so to be clear, they're unlikely to become a viable travel option for the typical vacationer. Rather, these planes would cater to a limited audience -- companies with robust budgets and wealthy travelers more than willing to pay a premium to cut down on their time spent in the air. The right customer base may not have a problem paying for the gift of less travel time, even if there are more economic alternatives to look to.
It's too soon to tell how successful United's latest endeavor will be. But if supersonic travel takes off, hotels -- and the people who invest in them -- stand to benefit in a very big way.