Survey Finds Most People Don’t Hate Air Travel After All

by Michele McDonald

What do airline passengers really want? 

A new survey commissioned by Airlines for America, the U.S. airline trade association, asked travelers how satisfied they were with their overall travel experience in 2015. 

Despite the anecdotal moaning and groaning about air travel, 35% of travelers said they were very satisfied and 44% said they were somewhat satisfied, for a total of 79%. 

But here’s a clue to what makes or breaks a trip these days: Among passengers who are enrolled in TSA Pre-Check, 49% said they were very satisfied. Among those are enrolled in Global Entry, 67% said they were very satisfied. 

John P. Heimlich, vice president and chief economist of A4A, said the results indicate that “it is paramount that carriers work collaboratively with TSA, Customs, and Border Control” and other entities that are involved in security.  

The message comes as travelers are facing the worst security bottlenecks in recent memory. American Airlines told the Chicago Tribune that in March, 1,000 passengers missed their flights at Chicago O’Hare alone because they were stuck in lines at TSA screening points. 

The long lines are the result of a huge miscalculation by TSA: It overestimated—by millions—the number of people who would enroll in Pre-Check. Thinking it would need fewer screeners, it cut its screener staff by 10% over the past three years. 

It’s not just big airports that are feeling the pain: During spring break, TSA was unable to cope with an extra 4,000 travelers in one day at Nashville, resulting in three-hour waits. 

It’s not surprising, then, that the A4A survey found that the efficiency of the overall pre-flight experience—and especially the efficiency of the security process—was the biggest concern of 2015 fliers.  

As for the inflight experience, 89% of those flights rated legroom and seat comfort as the most important factor. Number two on the list was adequate room for carry-ons. 

That, too, is likely to be a growing point of friction, as airlines put more seats on planes. 

Asked whether that data point would send a message to the airlines that they shouldn’t take the shoe-horn approach too far, Heimlich said, “I don’t see actual evidence that seat comfort has declined or that even seat size has declined.” 

The online survey of 3,019 adult members of the American general public was conducted Dec. 14-22 by Ipsos Public Affairs. 

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