- The Washington Times - Friday, May 30, 2008

Frustrations with air travel have prompted Americans to skip an estimated 41 million trips over the past year, according to a new study from a group lobbying for legislation to improve the travel process.

The missed trips cost the U.S. economy $26 billion, according to the study released yesterday by the Travel Industry Association, a Washington trade group.

The group attributed the missed trips to travelers believing “their time is not respected,” said Allan Rivlin , a partner at Peter D. Hart Research Associates, which conducted the study with the Winston Group. Travelers were frustrated with the air travel “process” - citing delays, cancellations and security screenings - and not necessarily with the airlines themselves.

But a recent study from the congressional Joint Economic Committee found that airlines are responsible for the majority of delays. The committee found that 94 percent of flight delays were caused by other flights arriving late, national system delays or air carrier delays. Only 6 percent of delays were due to weather or security.

Travel frustrations were apparent over the recent Memorial Day weekend. Gasoline pump prices have exceeded $4 per gallon in some areas of the country. Airlines, confronting soaring jet fuel costs, have raised prices and started charging fees for services that formerly were free, such as checking a first bag or reserving an aisle or window seat.

Half of respondents in TIA’s survey of 1,003 recent air travelers said they don’t expect the air travel system to improve in the near future.

“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,” said Roger Dow, president and chief executive officer of the TIA.

The 41 million avoided trips come to a cost of $9 billion in lost airline revenue, $6 billion in empty hotel rooms and $4 billion in federal, state and local government tax revenues.

The survey also found that 28 percent of air travelers avoided at least one trip, and an average of 2.1 trips, over the past year because of problems in the air travel process.

The TIA plans to host a summit of industry leaders next month. The group has been lobbying for federal legislation that would authorize a national tourism campaign, among other reforms. The campaign would be started with government money that would be repaid by the travel industry.

The Joint Economic Committee, in its report released last week, also found that flight delays in 2007 cost the economy $41 billion and cost travelers 320 million hours in wasted time. The committee used more than 10 million individual flight records from the Department of Transportation to calculate the cost.

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