Strong Summer Travel Season Could Be Met With Barriers: U.S. Travel

The summer travel outlook is strong, according to a recent poll conducted by the U.S. Travel Association and Ipsos. According to the 2023 Q2 Consumer Insights report, more than half (53 percent) of Americans have travel planned in the next six months, with 81 percent of leisure reporting such. In addition, one-quarter (26 percent) plan to increase the amount they spend on leisure travel in the next three months—up from 19 percent in Q1. Six in 10 respondents (60 percent) also agreed that taking time off to travel is more important than ever—which is significantly higher than the 35 percent who said so in the Q1 report.

That said, not everything will be peachy keen, according to U.S. Travel. As a record-breaking season for summer travel approaches, years of underinvestment in the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.) has led to an air travel system that is struggling under intense and growing demand. To note: The F.A.A. recently asked airlines to pull back slots at airports in New York and Washington, D.C., this summer due to a lack of air traffic controller staffing.

“Americans are paying the price of years of chronic underinvestment—in technology and staffing—by the federal government in our nation’s air travel system,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Geoff Freeman. “Air travelers are right to be frustrated and to demand more from Washington.” Specifically, Freeman cited a lack of funding for the F.A.A., insufficient funds for air traffic control staffing and increasing demands on F.A.A. resources, including new technologies like drones and advanced air mobility.

While demand is strong now, there is concern these inefficiencies could drive travelers away in the long-term. Two in five Americans (42 percent) say they have traveled by air for leisure in the past 12 months and 35 percent of those reported having a flight delayed or canceled. Overall, just 32 percent reported being very satisfied with their air travel experience. Similar to Q1 2023, crowding and congestion (43 percent) along with flight delays or cancelations (40 percent) are the primary reasons for air travelers’ less than satisfactory experience.

Tip: Travelers enrolled in expedited clearance programs, such as TSA PreCheck, are more satisfied (84 percent) with the overall air travel experience than those not enrolled (79 percent).

In addition, over half of Americans (52 percent) say they would travel more for leisure in the next six months if the travel experience was not as much of a hassle, which is significantly more than what survey results reflected in Q1 (29 percent). Freeman also cautioned that lengthy wait times for arriving passengers at U.S. customs checkpoints—a result of understaffing and diversion of resources by Customs and Border Protection—at gateway airports is a growing concern, compounding the full recovery of international inbound travel to the U.S.

Correcting the Problem

When asked what Congress should prioritize in F.A.A. reauthorization, a majority of recent air travelers (55 percent) want Congress to prioritize improvements to the air travel experience by addressing hassles such as reducing flight delays and cancelations (19 percent), offering more direct flights by addressing the pilot shortage (21 percent) or reducing congestion in airports (15 percent). Over one-third (36 percent) of recent air travelers want Congress to prioritize providing cash refunds or indefinite credits when flight delays or cancelations occur. Further, if Congress made any of these changes, 33 percent of respondents said they would travel more.

To that end, the federal government has a critical opportunity to correct decades of federal underinvestment with this year’s FAA reauthorization bill, says U.S. Travel. Its top three asks for this year’s F.A.A. reauthorization bill include:

  1. Providing at least $50 million per year for aviation workforce development programs to increase the supply of qualified pilots and mechanics.
  2. Providing $4.5 billion in funding for air traffic control infrastructure and technology as well as enough funding to hire 1,800 new air traffic controllers per year over the next three years, while fixing the staffing model to ensure the controllers are in the right places.
  3. Providing at least $4 billion per year in Airport Improvement Program Grants and enabling medium and large-hub airports, which serve the majority of passengers, to keep more of their grant funding.

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