WASHINGTON, D.C.—Security lines and checked-bag fees are among the well-publicized headaches of air travel, but passengers’ No. 1 concern is flight delays and cancellations, according to a survey conducted by the independent firm ResearchNow for the U.S. Travel Association.
An economic analysis of the survey results found that air travel hassles are taking their toll on the broader economy. Passengers’ frustration with the flying experience resulted in 38 million avoided domestic plane trips in 2013. Although air travel has steadily increased since the recession, 38 million trips is a loss equal to 8 percent of current air travel demand.
That suppressed activity had a significant downstream effect on travel-related businesses and the overall economy, including spending losses of $9.5 billion on airfare, $5.8 billion on hotels, $5.7 billion on recreation, $3.4 billion on food services, and $2.8 billion on car rentals.
The analysis found that cancellations and delays cost passengers themselves $8.5 billion in time lost, missed connections, and missed travel activity. The total hit to the U.S. economy: $35.7 billion.
“Whether it be for business or leisure, travel activity is indisputably terrific medicine for the U.S. economy,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “One of our major aims is to help our leaders better prioritize travel-related policies that will get this country moving. This survey shows that modernizing our air travel infrastructure should be a top national priority.”
It’s also of note that 60 percent of air travelers say they would take an average of 2.6 more trips per year if air travel were made more efficient.
For the question, “Which of the following are you most concerned about before taking a trip by air?” top responses from surveyed travelers were: delays/cancellations (39 percent); fees imposed by airlines for checked bags, seat assignments etc. (26 percent); safety (11 percent); security screening (8 percent); and no concerns (6 percent).
Dow said that a significant amount of congressional attention has been paid to air travel policy recently—specifically upon the issue of government taxes on airline tickets, which is the subject of competing bills in the House and Senate. But he noted that 1 percent of survey respondents listed government-imposed costs as their top flying concern—tied with “don’t know” for dead last in response to that question.
“In other words, two bills in Congress are aimed at an issue that is named by about one in every 100 travelers as a central concern,” Dow said. “Meanwhile, upgrades to air traffic control are a decade behind schedule, and airports are struggling just to keep up with maintenance, let alone expand so that capacity and economic activity can comfortably increase. The most recent global ranking did not place a single U.S. airport in the top 25. It is threatening our ability to compete.”
Photo credit: Waiting Passenger via Bigstock