Published Thursday | May 22, 2008
Airlines' passengers get fidgety in survey
BY TOM SHAW - WORLD HERALD STAFF WRITER
SOURCE: Omaha World Herald Online
If you think air travel has turned into a nightmare, you're definitely not alone.
Almost two-thirds of travelers surveyed recently by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Wichita State University believe air travel has gotten worse over the past year.
Brent Bowen, a professor at UNO's Aviation Institute, said the survey confirms what researchers found when analyzing information from the U.S. Department of Transportation about the performance of major airlines.
In that annual study, which was released in April, the industry received its lowest quality ratings ever.
Things won't get any better this summer, Bowen said.
"Consumers feel like it's getting worse," he said. "We should expect a significant decline this summer, so travelers beware."
The results of the online survey were released this morning.
The Aviation Institute and the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State have compiled airline quality ratings using federal data for 18 years. But this was the first passenger survey conducted by the researchers.
More than 5,000 travelers filled out the survey, which was available on the researchers' Web site in April and during the first part of this month.
Researchers said that, based on answers to demographic questions, those who filled out the survey are representative of the flying public at large.
A second survey is now posted on the Web site. The goal is to post four surveys a year, each with different questions regarding air travel. The results will be released before major travel periods, along with quarterly information about airline quality.
On-time performance, customer service, baggage handling and not getting bumped from reserved seats are the four categories of service are used by Bowen and Dean Headley at Wichita State to rate airline quality each year. Bowen said researchers believed that on-time performance was the most important factor for travelers, and the survey validates that.
Having a flight leave and arrive on time is so important that more travelers are using private aircraft to conduct business, Bowen said.
The second survey asks several questions about the role that Congress should play in improving airline quality. Travelers also are asked whether they would be willing to pay higher fares if Congress "stopped the airline industry's declining performance."
Bowen said airlines can't pay for fuel and other costs with the industry's current fare structure and people should expect to pay more to fly.
Bowen worked with U.S. Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., in developing questions for the second survey.
In an interview, Terry said he shared with Bowen travel horror stories from constituents and his own experiences traveling from Omaha to Washington, D.C.
Terry wants to use the survey to determine the level of interest in tougher government regulation of the airline industry.
"I think when it starts coming up in town hall meetings and people start calling our office about poor service, you're getting a critical mass," Terry said of traveler frustration.
Terry is checking to see if leaders of the House's Transportation Committee would like Bowen to testify later this year about the state of the industry.
Terry co-sponsored the Airline Passengers Bill of Rights Act last year after a series of incidents in which passengers were stuck on planes for hours because of weather delays. Passengers complained about unsanitary conditions on the planes and a lack of food and water.
The bill would require airlines to provide adequate food, water and bathroom facilities during delayed departures. Passengers also would be given an option to leave the plane after more than three hours.
The bill, which did not address on-time flight performance, and a similar measure introduced in the U.S. Senate were referred to legislative committees.
The Air Transport Association, which represents carriers, has opposed such measures.
House members, including Terry, did pass a bill last fall that would, in part, require certain carriers to submit contingency plans to the Federal Aviation Administration for how passengers on grounded planes would be treated.
The bill also would allow passengers to leave the plane after excessive delays. The Senate has not passed its version of the bill.
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