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Travelers Forego 38 Million Trips to Avoid Hassles

Everyone knows that air travel is stressful. Long lines. Packed planes. Lousy food. Intrusive security. It’s enough to make you just stay home, right?

Indeed, common sense would suggest that significant numbers of people have been discouraged altogether from traveling. But how many people? And what’s the economic impact of those trip cancellations?

The U.S. Travel Association, an organization whose stated goal is to promote travel, has just released results of a study designed to answer those questions, together with its recommendations on reducing the number of abandoned trips.

The survey’s main findings, extrapolated from interviews with 1,031 business and leisure travelers:

  • 38 million trips deferred in 2013
  • $9.5 billion lost on airfare
  • $5.8 billion lost on hotels
  • $5.7 billion lost on recreation
  • $3.4 billion lost on food services
  • $2.8 billion lost on car rentals

Big numbers, to be sure. For the sake of discussion, let’s assume that the survey respondents were a truly representative sample of U.S. travelers, and that the findings are valid. The next step would be to identify the impediments to travel and minimize them.

To get at the sources of the respondents’ aversion to travel, the survey posed the question, “Which of the following are you most concerned about before taking a trip by air?” The most prevalent responses:

  • Delays/cancellations (39%)
  • Fees imposed by airlines for checked bags, seat assignments, etc. (26%)
  • Safety (11%)
  • Security screening (8%)

Delays and cancellations may be the most worrisome of the factors listed on the survey, but I doubt that they’re the primary disincentive to taking those 38 million lost trips. Personally, when I find myself balking at the prospect of flying, the possibility of a delayed or cancelled flight doesn’t factor into my reluctance at all. What makes air travel cringe-worthy, for me, is the hassle factor of getting through the airport, and the discomfort of the flight itself.

If my reservations are consistent with those of other travelers — and I suspect that they are — then the USTA survey was simply badly designed. The question was a good one: To fix the problem, it must first be identified. But the predefined answers failed to include the responses that most closely align with the truth.

As it stands, USTA’s recommendations focus on reducing delays and cancellations, by ramping up spending on airport infrastructure. Airport improvements may well be warranted. But that will do little to mitigate the hassle factor casting a pall over air travel.

Reader Reality Check

What are the primary deterrents (not including airfare) to your booking a trip by air?

This article originally appeared on

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