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9 Jun, 2008

U.S. Frequent Flyers Cutting Back on Travel

American frequent air travellers are cutting back on flying, thanks to lengthy lines for check-in and security screening, flight delays, cancellations, longer flight times, baggage issues and other such hassles, according to a survey commissioned by the US Travel Industry Association.

“Compared with other parts of the travel experience including renting cars, staying at a motel, hotel, or resort, and eating meals away from home, the air travel experience is the least pleasant part of taking a trip,” the survey showed. “A 56% majority of travellers say that getting through the airports and flying to and from their destination is a bad part (40%) or the worst part of travel (16%).”

These hassles and frustrations “caused 41 million trips not to be taken last year, including 29 million leisure trips and 12 million business trips. This is a total cost to the (US) travel industry of $26.5 billion: $9.4 billion to airlines, $5.6 billion to hotels, $3.1 billion to restaurants and $4.2 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue because of the reduced spending,” the survey said.

The survey of 1,003 air travellers (adults who had taken at least one roundtrip by air in the last 12 months) was conducted between May 6 and May 13, 2008 and the statistical margin of sampling error is ± 3.2 percentage points. Many of the respondents travel more than five times a year.

“The air travel crisis has hit a tipping point – more than 100,000 travellers each day are voting with their wallets by choosing to avoid trips,” said Roger Dow, President and CEO of TIA. “This landmark research should be a wake up call to America’s policy leaders that the time for meaningful air system reform is now.”

He added “With rising fuel prices already weighing heavily on American pocketbooks, we need to find ways to encourage Americans to continue their business and leisure travel. Unfortunately, just the opposite appears to be happening.”

A spokesman for one of the research companies which did the survey said, “Many travellers believe their time is not respected and it is leading them to avoid a significant number of trips. Inefficient security screening and flight cancellations and delays are air travellers’ top frustrations.”

This landmark survey will be the subject of discussion at an emergency summit of US travel leaders on June 17 in Washington, DC to discuss ways to move this issue forward with policymakers.

The survey showed that in the past year, 28% of travellers have chosen not to take a trip because problems with the air travel system made the trip seem like more of a hassle than it was worth. Forty-four percent of travellers said that they would take more trips each year if the hassles at the airport could be reduced or eliminated.

It said that the “frequent travellers are much more likely to be frustrated travellers. Among the group taking as many as five trips per year, dissatisfaction with the air travel system (48%) nearly equals satisfaction (51%).

Frequent travellers who take long-distance trips are more likely to describe the system as frustrating (48% versus 33%), and unreliable (21% versus 12%). Very frequent travellers are the most frustrated (52%) and more than one-quarter of them describe the system as unreliable.

Said the survey report, “Flight delays and cancellations are, by far, the most disliked parts of traveling by air. A 53% majority of all travellers (and 60% of people who take five or more trips per year) say that flight delays and cancellations are the aspects of the travel process that most needs to be improved. Getting through security screening is another area that more than one-third (36%) of travellers choose as being most in need of improvement.”

By 62% to 20% all travellers say the air travel system is getting worse, including infrequent travellers (56% worse, 23% better) as well as frequent travellers taking at least three trips per year (71% worse, 15% better). Concerns about efficiency and reliability are driving this pessimism about the direction of the air travel system.

Travellers are not confident that the airlines, airports, and the federal government will make the needed changes in the next few years, with half saying change is very (15%) or fairly (35%) likely and half saying that it is not too likely (32%) or not likely at all (15%). Travellers who are less familiar with the system are more optimistic (53% likely, 44% unlikely) than the most frequent travellers (41% likely, 58% unlikely).

Although there is a clear desire for all parties to do their part to make improvements, the survey said two-thirds (68%) of travellers trust airlines to make improvements, and half trust the federal government (51%) and airports (48%) to make needed changes.

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