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‘The air travel crisis has hit a tipping point’

Forgone trips costly to industry

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Nearly half of American air travelers would fly more if it were easier, and more than one-fourth said they skipped at least one air trip in the past 12 months because of the hassles involved, according to an industry survey.

The Travel Industry Association, which commissioned the survey released Thursday, estimated that the 41 million forgone trips cost the travel industry $18.1 billion — including $9.4 billion to airlines and $5.6 billion to hotels — and it cost federal, state and local authorities $4.2 billion in taxes in the past 12 months.

When 28 percent of air travelers avoided an average of 1.3 trips each, that resulted in 29 million leisure trips and 12 million business trips not being taken, the researchers estimated.

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The survey results did not address whether travelers chose alternate transportation to pursue any of the journeys they didn’t take by plane.

The association estimated overall travel industry revenue at $740 billion.

Roger Dow, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based association, said the research "should be a wake-up call to America’s policy leaders that the time for meaningful air system reform is now."

"The air travel crisis has hit a tipping point — more than 100,000 travelers each day are voting with their wallets by choosing to avoid trips," Dow said in a statement.

That’s a big blow to airlines, many of which are losing money as the industry struggles with soaring fuel costs. Carriers have raised fares, added fees, cut capacity and scaled back expansion plans. Some small airlines have declared bankruptcy, while Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp. announced plans to combine in an effort to reduce costs.

In all, 44 percent of the 1,003 air travelers surveyed by phone from May 6 to May 13 said they would take more air trips each year if airport hassles could be reduced or eliminated. The survey, conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates Inc. and The Winston Group, had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

People who flew more than five times in the past 12 months were more likely to describe air travel as frustrating, at 52 percent, compared with 33 percent of infrequent travelers, defined as people who flew one or two round trips in 12 months, according to the survey.

More than half of respondents said either efficiency or reliability is getting worse, 60 percent said the system is deteriorating, and 56 percent said flying is the "bad" or "worst" part of travel — though 62 percent said air travel security is improving.

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