The nation's major airlines continue to experience turbulence from soaring fuel costs, bankruptcy filings, and recent reports of "close calls" in busy air traffic. But are these issues -- and the passenger headaches resulting from them -- affecting the public's perception of flying the friendly skies?
Gallup asked Americans a series of questions about air travel in an April 1-2 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll*, as the numerous problems plaguing the air travel industry gathered altitude. The survey shows an increase in the number of Americans who say they have flown in the past 12 months compared with the last two years' data, and also suggests a majority of those flying are satisfied with the job the major airlines are doing.
More Americans Leaving on a Jet Plane
According to the April poll, about half (51%) of Americans say they made at least one trip on a commercial airliner in the past year. That represents a 10-point increase in reported flying from December 2004, and is the highest percentage saying they have flown since February 2002.
Satisfaction: Up, Up, and Away
Most American fliers are satisfied with the job major airlines are doing. Seventy-five percent of respondents who say they've flown at least once in the past year are satisfied, while 23% are dissatisfied.
Even though reports of harrowing travel experiences are common, Americans seem to give the airlines the benefit of the doubt when it comes to assessing the overall travel experience for air passengers. Sixty-one percent of Americans say the experience is "about as good as can be expected given the circumstances," and only 29% say providers can make air travel "much better for passengers without raising ticket prices significantly."
Despite high overall satisfaction ratings for airlines, it doesn't mean flights are hassle-free. The poll asked people who've flown in the past year whether they had problems with eight different aspects of the flying experience. The most common reported problems were excessive baggage for passengers, long lines at the airport, and uncomfortable seating.
Twenty-three percent of air travelers report "the amount of baggage people bring onto planes" has been a major problem for them when flying, and about the same percentage, 21%, say "long lines at the airport" have been a major problem. Eighteen percent say this about "the comfort of seating on flights." Roughly 6 in 10 Americans say all of these were at least minor problems for them.
Fewer fliers say "the food and beverages available on flights" (15%) and "long waits for luggage at baggage claim" (14%) have been a major problem for them. And given all the publicity about flight delays, it is surprising that only 13% of fliers say "cancellation or delays of flights" has been a major problem for them. Also, just 13% of air travelers have experienced a major problem with "the requirements for going through the security check point," possibly signaling that they are resigned to enduring some inconvenience in exchange for safety in the skies.
Only 7% say "rude or offensive passengers" has been a major problem for them, while another 26% say it has been a minor problem. All other items were rated as at least a minor problem by 47% or more of air travelers.
*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,040 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted April 1-2, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 577 adults who have traveled by air in the past year, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.