For frequent fliers, nonstop headaches

Frequent flier Bill Slade has spent too many hours waiting in airports for a plane that came late or didn't arrive at all. He tries to improve his odds by booking nonstop flights early in the morning.

About once a month, it doesn't work out, and he decides to make his business calls over the phone rather than risk navigating what he considers a broken air transportation system.

"Don't tell me it's working, because it's not," says Slade, owner of a heating and air-conditioning equipment company in Tampa. "It's like a soup sandwich."

He's not alone. U.S. travelers fed up with the hassles of flying skipped 41-million trips — more than 100,000 a day — in the last year, according to a survey released Thursday by the travel industry's largest trade group.

The Travel Industry Association said those missed trips cost airlines, hotels, restaurants and government agencies an estimated $26.5-billion.

"The air travel crisis has reached a tipping point — more than 100,000 travelers each day are voting with their wallets," said Roger Dow, chief executive of the association.

Researchers interviewed 1,003 people between May 6 and May 13 who took at least one round-trip flight in the last 12 months. Twenty-eight percent said they'd decided not to take at least one trip in the last year to avoid flight disruptions, inefficient security screening or some other travel headache.

"Many travelers believe their time is not respected, and it is leading them to avoid a significant number of trips," said Allan Rivlin, a partner at Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

The Travel Industry Association will host an "emergency summit" of travel leaders June 17 in Washington, D.C., to push Congress and other policymakers for action. Dow pointed to the need to replace the nation's air traffic control system with a satellite-based navigation system.

Called NextGen, the system would let pilots and air traffic controllers see the precise location of aircraft and allow faster takeoffs and landings. A funding mechanism for the system is part of a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill bottled up in Congress.

The survey reflected widespread frustration among airline passengers. Last year was the second-worst ever for flight delays, with more than a quarter of planes arriving at least 15 minutes after the scheduled arrival time.

One third of travelers surveyed were dissatisfied with the "entire air travel system," a number that soared to 48 percent for frequent fliers with at least five trips in the last year.

The survey results should be ''extremely concerning" to Florida, where tourism is the largest industry, Dow said. The research didn't break down the missed trips by state or region. Just over half of visitors to the Sunshine State arrive by air.

"Anyone who flies knows it's become a difficult process," said Bud Nocera, CEO of Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing agency. "Improving the experience of all travelers who fly will be beneficial to Florida."

Steve Huettel can be reached at huet
tel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

28 percent

Air travelers who avoided at least one trip over the past year

41-million

Total trips avoided in the past year

$26-billion

Economic impact of avoided flights including $9.4-billion in airline losses

For frequent fliers, nonstop headaches 05/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 30, 2008 3:06pm]

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