What's Up With Air Travel? A New Study Reveals All

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET
  • Amy Ziff Health Coach and Founder of

Do you ever wonder what's happening to air travel these days? I do. Often. Of course, I fly a lot, but even if you only take a few flights a year, there's a good chance you'll be taking one this upcoming holiday season. If you're reading this, you've probably heard that one in every four flights was delayed during the first eight months of this year, according to the Bureau of Transportation. But that's not all. Load factors are at an all-time high, baggage is being lost in record numbers, travelers are poorly dressed and people on the road just seem peeved.

The truth is that air travel woes are equal to, if not worse than, the years prior to 9/11. (That period of time is remembered as the worst for the industry's problems.) According to the Bureau of Transportation stats more planes are flying now than back then, so it's not surprising these issues have come up again. What we fail to recognize is that the industry never solved these problems before, but merely skirted them when demand dropped through the floor in the wake of the terror attacks. That leaves the question: Is there anything we can do now to make the experience of air travel more palatable? In an attempt to find out, I asked Travelocity's travelers about their tolerance and expectations when it comes to air travel in a study released today.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but despite the one-in-four statistic cited above, only 2% of respondents say they expect delays after security. Must I remind travelers of the YouTube videos of planes packed with passengers and stuck on the tarmac for hours? Speaking of waiting, the majority of respondents considered more than a half an hour to be excessive. Though there is no official tracking of how long people wait for any given flight, most airlines pad their schedules and can therefore make up for a limited amount of waiting without being officially "delayed." These days, I consider a half an hour of waiting likely. While I'm not trying to harp on all the hassles of flying, this study has uncovered a serious disconnect between consumer expectations and what airlines can actually deliver.

If we can examine this disconnect perhaps we can make the experience of flying a bit better. For example, if customers actually recognized that despite rising prices we often pay less for travel than prior to 9/11, they might feel better about it. Furthermore, if you plan in advance and are flexible, relatively low airfares are usually available. The airlines are crippled by their costs and in the years since 2001 have cut salaries, pensions, and extra services. Yet should we customers still expect the same service level as before if we're not willing to pay for it? Yes, we should demand better information and treatment when things aren't on schedule, but maybe not expect the same level of service if we're still getting bargain airfares. Likewise, I'd like to see the airlines recognize that we vote with our dollars. I found that the majority of travelers will defect if given another option for their next flight if they aren't happy with their treatment on board.

For now, the best advice I can give is to take matters into your own hands to make the flying experience better. My suggestion is to start by resetting your expectations. Factor in a possible delay and make a back-up plan. Fly direct when possible, and if you can't, leave ample room for your connections. Travel light and don't check bags for maximum flexibility as well as to prevent mishandling. Take your medications on board with you along with snacks and something to drink just in case.

With your attitude adjusted and your plans set and backed up - hopefully your travels will be a little bit easier even if they're not smoother.

For more information on this poll check out The Window Seat blog .