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Economic Hit from Latest Weather Flight Woes? U.S. Travel Association Says $94.8 Million Loss

March 4, 2014

snowThe latest weather woes are hurting the travel industry's wallet -- and hard.

U.S. Travel Association ( economists today said its research shows cancellation of one U.S. domestic flight for weather-related reasons costs $31,600 in passengers’ lost economic activity.

With data from showing some 3,000 flights have been cancelled due to the latest winter weather, U.S. Travel Association says that translates to a total economic loss of $94.8 million.

Worse yet, that number only accounts for passengers on affected flights and the spending they would otherwise inject into the economy; because of discrepancies in how each carrier tabulates its costs, there is no industry-wide data available for the airline sector.

“We are now able to quantify what all travelers have long known intuitively: there are real dollar costs associated with flight cancellations and delays caused by the weather,” said U.S. Travel President and CEO Roger Dow. “Obviously, Mother Nature cannot be controlled. But there are things we can do to mitigate the cost to the economy—improvements to our infrastructure that would make weather events far less disruptive to our air travel system.

“This data is just the latest indication that, as a country, we need to prioritize our infrastructure to make sure our economy can withstand these shocks to the system. More investments are, quite simply, essential.”

Dow said modernizing airports and air traffic control equipment could help reduce flight delays and cancellations during inclement weather. U.S. Travel's press release cited, as one example, NextGen technology that allows pilots and air traffic controllers to land planes using GPS navigation, rather than radar and plain sight, and can reduce flight delays and cancellations caused by poor visibility.

Additional runways, aprons and deicing facilities can increase the number of airplanes that can land and take off in poor weather conditions, including snowstorms.

U.S. Travel’s research also determined that every hour a flight is merely delayed, as opposed to cancelled outright, costs the U.S. economy an average of $3,300 in passenger-related economic activity.

All told, the direct economic impact of flight cancellations and delays cost the economy $3.5 billion in 2013, the association said. This includes the costs of canceled trips, passenger time lost, missed connections and missed travel activities.

U.S. Travel said the estimates are based on a combination of airline traffic and on-time data; air traveler behavior and characteristics data recently collected through its surveys including the monthly TravelsAmerica survey conducted by research firm TNS; and U.S. Travel’s proprietary economic models.

In weeks ahead U.S. Travel said it plans to incorporate the new research into an online calculator to determine the economic impact of delays and cancellations that are reported by the media during weather events and other disruptions.

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