Travel By Air Frustrations Revealed By Survey

Travel by air, land or sea brings with it the opportunity for traveler frustration on a number of levels. On land, extra holiday traffic, extra fees at hotels or resorts and other potential unknowns take their toll. At sea, the inclusive nature of a cruise handles most of the potential problem areas but, as with any travel, the unanticipated can be a negative. When it comes to air travel, the biggest problem by far has nothing to do with airlines, pilots or flight attendants.

A full 75 percent of air travellers are most frustrated by the time it takes for them to make it through security checks, says a recent study by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

Taking off shoes and belts, sorting through electronic items and removing liquids from their carry-on bags all add up to huge frustration. It is such a bother to travelers that 75 percent would rather go through a full-body scanner than have a full pat down by a security officer.

In other findings of the nearly 3,000 travelers from 114 countries surveyed who had traveled by air in the past 12 months:

  • 73 percent were willing to share personal background information with governments in order to speed up security screening.
  • 77 percent were comfortable with using biometric identification for more convenient airport transit.
  • 71 percent would prefer to use a self-boarding device at the gate, such as a mobile phone.
  • 86 percent were prepared to provide the airline their passport details in advance to allow a smoother journey.
  • 91 percent said they would be interested if providing passport details in advance would allow a faster arrival process.
“Keeping these and other important findings in mind, the IATA has come up with several recommendations for airlines, airports and governments to follow to make air travel smoother and hassle-free,” said Kenneth Dunlap, IATA’s Director of Security & Facilitation in an Economic Times report. Among the IATA-driven recommendations for airlines is the development of a Known Traveler Program that would ask governments to develop capabilities for data-driven risk assessment through identity authentication and verification.

IATA also reported that airlines are expected to return a profit of $6.7 billion in 2012, expected to improve to $8.4 billion in 2013.

[Photo Credit- Flickr user Old Shoe Woman]

Could your cell phone make you an in-flight killer?

Could my Kindle have the potential for murder? Mayhem? Needless to say, I may think twice before firing it up during takeoff on my trip to London at the end of the month!

I’ll be the first to admit that I thwart airline rules about turning on electronic devices during takeoff and landing. I don’t like reading print, and a year and a half after getting it, I still have a comfortable yet steamy love affair with my Kindle. I just can’t resist flipping the switch at the riskiest of times during my flights.

According to a report that ABC News got its hands on, though, I might be putting many, many lives at risk. ABC picked up a confidential industry study that indicates the safety issues could be real. Very real.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) studied survey responses from 125 airlines from 2003 to 2009 and found … “75 incidents of possible electronic interference that airline pilots and other crew members believed were linked to mobile phones and other electronic devices.” Twenty-six of them, a tad more than a third, “affected the flight controls, including the autopilot, autothrust and landing gear.” Another 17 hit navigation systems, with 15 affecting communication systems.
Of course, the report “stresses that it is not verifying that the incidents were caused by PEDs,” according to ABC News.

Some of this stuff is straight out of horror flicks: clocks spinning backwards, GPS devices malfunctioning and “altitude control readings changed rapidly until a crew member asked passengers to turn off their electronic devices.”

Scary stuff, no doubt.

So, is all this real?

Apparently, it’s hard to say. According to ABC News’s aviation guy, John Nance:

“There is a lot of anecdotal evidence out there, but it’s not evidence at all,” said Nance, a former Air Force and commercial pilot. “It’s pilots, like myself, who thought they saw something but they couldn’t pin it to anything in particular. And those stories are not rampant enough, considering 32,000 flights a day over the U.S., to be convincing.”

The feedback is mixed, it seems, leaving each of us to decide whether to roll the dice.

Five indicators of the airline industry’s future: start with first and business class

Airlines are getting a little lucky. The big bucks and wider margins that come from first- and business-class fares are coming in faster than the nickels and dimes from economy class. This will delight the various airline industry employees who think that passengers aren’t paying enough, and it’s also a growth indicator.

According to the International Air Transport Association, an industry trade group, year-over-year growth slowed down in August relative to previous months, though this is due in part to the fact that August 2009 was the first month of the industry’s recovery, setting a higher bar for year-over-year growth than in the few months prior.

Nonetheless, airline sector growth is slowing down a bit, and not just because of the higher base in August for relative measurement. The total number of passengers traveling fell a little over 1 percent from July to August this year.

In August, first- and business-class passenger traffic surged 9.1 percent, following a 13.8 percent jump in July. Behind the special curtain that separates the elite from the proletariat, passenger traffic climbed 6.2 percent in August, following 8.8 percent in July.

So, where is the airline industry going this year? Here are five indicators to watch:

1. According to IATA‘s 230 members, demand for premium travel is up 17 percent relative to 2009 … but 99 percent of that hit in the first quarter of 2010.

2. Premium-class travel has leveled off since the end of Q1, but it’s uncertain if this is only a temporary state.

3. Business confidence is still positive, but it is inching downward. Premium markets remain 11 percent below the early 2008 peak, MSNBC reports.

4. Leisure travelers are even trying to help, with total economy travel up 11 percent from the depths it hit in 2009.

5. Month-over-month stagnation now may not say much about the future, according to IATA. Leading indicators point to growth of 5 percent to 6 percent a year.

[photo by Let Ideas Compete via Flickr]

Department of Transportation mulls expanded passenger delay rule

The Department of Transportation is thinking about getting even stricter with the airlines. After implementing a rule last spring that involves heavy fines for carriers that keep passengers on a plane on the ground for at least three hours, the DOT is already considering expanding the scope to small airports and international flights.

MSNBC reports:

“The situation is much worse than the [official] statistics indicate,” said George Hobica of “We have to include every airport, every type of plane and every type of flight.”

Unsurprisingly, the International Air Transport Association isn’t crazy about Hobica’s approach, with spokesman Steve Lott saying, “If DOT goes ahead with this, they’re going to cause a much larger problem than the one they think they’re trying to solve.”

The final rule won’t come down until the spring, so there’s plenty of time for both sides to fight this out.

For the airline sector, this measure seems to be seen as a signal of something much worse – the prospect of broad regulation and constraints on its ability to operate effectively in the manner to which it has become accustomed.

For its part, DOT won’t announce a final rule until next spring, but you can expect a lot of others to weigh in before then. Hundreds of last-minute ideas were lobbed over to the DOT, according to MSNBC, addressing all kinds of passenger and watchdog hot buttons, such as: advertising, fee disclosure and compensation for those denied boarding. The big one, of course, was the issue of delays on the tarmac.

International carriers oppose the expanded rules – shocking, right?! Lott, taking the standard industry stance, raises the issue of cancellation instead of risking a $27,500 per passenger customer fine, telling MSNBC, “I don’t think getting stranded in a U.S. city for a day or more is necessarily helping passengers.”

This may be a risk, but the data tells the only reliable story:

Meanwhile, as the airline industry and consumer advocates press their points of view, two truths regarding tarmac delays remain. Delays of three hours or more for domestic flights are down substantially since the original rule went into effect – there were only three in July, says DOT, compared to 161 during the same period last year – and international flights do present a much more challenging scenario.

[photo by williamcho via Flickr]

Airlines peak in 2010, could cost you next year

All those extra fees may have helped the airlines out last quarter but don’t expect these “good times” to last forever. According to the International Air Transport Association, airline profits are expected to peak at $8.9 billion this year and will be followed by a decline. Pressure on demand and investments in new planes will be among the reasons for this turn. Next year, IATA forecasts an aggregate profit of $5.3 billion.

According to Bloomberg:

“The economic environment is still extremely risky and uncertain going forward,” Brian Pearce, IATA’s chief economist, said today. “In Europe, we’ve seen the markets are getting very worried about government debt in some countries. And we don’t really know what impact the austerity budgets will have.”

With 1,400 new aircraft to be delivered next year, carrier capacity is expected to grow by 6 percent, staying ahead of a 5 percent increase in “demand and depressing load factors, a measure of seat occupancy, which will in turn will keep yields or prices ‘flat,'” according to IATA.In 2010, seating increased 7 percent, with traffic up 11 percent. Disciplined operations helped lead to the filling of 78 percent of seats through the end of July. With the increase in capacity relative to demand next year, the 2010 successes are unlikely to be revisited.

Even though 2010 was a relatively strong year for the airline sector, the perceived successes come in part from a depressed baseline:

Global sales will climb to $560 billion in 2010, $15 billion more than previously forecast but less than the $564 billion achieved in 2008, IATA said. The forecast profit is also $4 billion lower than the figure for the pre-slump year of 2007.

So, what does all this mean for you?

Airline woes tend to become passenger woes pretty quickly, as anyone who’s paid to check a bag has learned the hard way. They’ll be looking for ways to protect their margins, so you should probably keep an eye on your wallet.

[photo by UggBoy via Flickr]