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Air travel hassles cause $35.7B economic loss

Airline travel isn't for the faint of heart these days.

First, passengers have to deal with the potential for delays or cancellations. Then there are the extra fees added on by airlines, for everything from seat assignments to checked bags. Finally, there's running the security gauntlet at the airport.

The upshot? Many Americans are opting against taking domestic flights, leading to 38 million avoided air trips in 2013, according to a new study by independent research firm ResearchNow for the U.S. Travel Association. The study found that while air travel has picked up since the recession, those avoided trips amount to 8 percent of current air travel demand.

The loss of $35.7 billion in economic activity isn't just felt by the airlines, however. Americans' desire to stay put means loss of revenue for hotels, restaurants and car rental companies, the study found. The biggest share, at $9.5 billion, was felt by the airline industry through lost airfares, however.

Airline passengers are also feeling economic pain, the study found. Cancellations and delays amount to $8.5 billion in time lost, missed connections, and missed travel activity, the study notes. Other economic losses include $5.8 billion in lost hotel revenue; $5.7 billion on lost recreation revenue; $3.4 billion on food services; and $2.8 billion in lost car rental bookings.

When considering taking a trip by air, respondents said they were most concerned about delays or cancellations, with 39 percent citing those issues as a worry. Fees concerned 26 percent of respondents, while safety and security screening were cited by 11 percent and 8 percent of those surveyed, respectively. Only 6 percent of respondents said they had no concerns.

The biggest concern "is good old- fashioned delays and cancellations," said U.S. Travel Association chef executive Roger Dow on conference call to discuss the survey. "Passengers are saying, 'Just get me there, and get me there on time.'"

While Congress has focused on government taxes on airlines tickets, the study found that only one percent of respondents cited government-imposed costs as their top concern. More pressing issues include upgrading air traffic control and keeping up with airport maintenance.

If flying were more efficient, Americans would be likely to book more an average of 2.6 more trips per year, the study found.

So how can flying be made more appealing? The federal government should invest in airport infrastructure, while transparency in airline fees should be improved, making it easier for travelers to budget for trips. Expanding airports to add more flight options would make air travel more competitive, and improve overall cost, the group said.

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