♬ It’s the most frustrating time of the year — to fly♪


The flying experience is worse than it was five years ago, and the worst time of the year to fly is now, according to a new survey.

But you probably didn’t need a survey to tell you that. And yet, here we are with a new Morning Consult research, commissioned by the U.S. Travel Association, a trade association that almost never says a bad word about airlines.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

“Air travel isn’t a privilege of the few,” said U.S. Travel Association spokesman Jonathan Grella in a prepared statement. “It’s an essential pillar of our economy and our American way of life, especially around the holidays when families gather.”

Why is the U.S. Travel Association telling us the obvious? A closer look at the survey suggests there’s an agenda.

“Strong majorities” of traveler, it concluded, “say Congress should modernize airport and air traffic control infrastructure, prioritize the needs of passengers, and allow airports more flexibility to invest in programs that increase options for travelers.”

Let’s stick with the needs of air travelers for now. Slightly more than half of the respondents (51 percent) said flying is more of a hassle now than it was five years ago. About a quarter said there’d been no change. Only 9 percent said flying was “less” of a hassle.

You have to dig deep in the survey results to get an idea of how bad things really are.

✔ 60 percent say airline fees have gotten worse in the last five years. That’s the highest negative response.

✔ 51 percent say the cost of flying has increased — a powerful counterpoint to the airline propaganda, which claims flying is cheaper. (Yeah, if you can call what you sell a ticket.)

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✔ 47 percent say “airport hassles” like long lines and crowded terminals are worse than five years ago.


While that’s hardly a call to action to modernize airport and air traffic control infrastructure — one of the U.S. Travel Association’s legislative priorities, and probably the reason it commissioned this survey — it does suggest airlines have it in their power to lessen our pain right now if they wanted to. They could simply cut fees and tell the truth about their fares.

The trade group sidesteps the airline industry’s responsibility and claims improving airports “could immediately boost the U.S. economy.” It notes that two in five frequent business and leisure travelers would take at least three more trips per year if airport hassles could be reduced or eliminated. That may be true, but it’s kind of beside the point. The airlines are making travel more miserable than any airport infrastructure could.

And then there’s the business of when air travel is at its worst. Survey says: Christmas (50 percent), Thanksgiving (25 percent), Fourth of July (3 percent), Memorial Day (2 percent) and Labor Day (1 percent).

So if you’re flying somewhere today, tomorrow or next week, give yourself a pat on the back. You picked the absolute worst time to head to the airport.

What’s more interesting to me is the fact that the U.S. Travel Association, an association that almost always plays nice with the airlines, has chosen to go after them, even if somewhat indirectly. Why release a poll that says flying is worse and that airlines are responsible — unless things were really, really bad?

Related story:   A United Airlines holiday travel story with a happy ending

Who knows? Maybe the U.S. Travel execs’ invitation to A4A’s Christmas Party got “lost” in the mail. Then again, maybe the frustration with the airline industry is starting to seep into other parts of the American travel industry and boil over into outright anger. And at no time of the year is that anger felt more than right now.

In the next five years, flying will get:

View Results

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • Annie M

    Upgrade airports? Even that is a horror story. Ask passengers who are flying out of LGA. There are countless stories of people getting out of cars on the Grand Central Parkway and walking to the airport because of the major traffic jams occurring there.

    Modernizing airports creates its own problems because they have waited so long to fix them.

  • Bill___A

    The worst thing about flying at Christmas is the passengers. If people want a better experience, they should not act so boorishly. Just went through that yesterday, Although “most” passengers were fine, there were a handful of people who were amongst the worst behaved you would find anywhere,. The airline, airport, and employees were no problem at all, even though there were winter weather conditions that would shut many an airport down. I was impressed with how the airport can keep the runways clear when they have the right stuff.

  • Jeff W.

    I can certainly agree with the LGA comment. Last year when I needed to fly out of there regularly, I would have the cab drop me off at the Marriott across the Grand Central and walk the rest of the way.

    Modernizing airports solves some of the problem, but let’s face it. In order to so that, most airports will require a larger footprint. And many airports are constrained by the neighborhoods that surround them. O’Hare is a classic example. Lawsuits on top of lawsuits. Not saying all of them were frivolous, but it makes expanding any airport very costly.

  • C Schwartz

    I saw the video last night of the mess that is LGA — people getting out of cars on the shoulder of the parkway, in the dark and cold…. the Port Authority really made a mess of things……

  • jim6555

    Tampa International Airport has been undergoing a modernization during the past two years which is now nearly complete. The vast project includes an upgrading of the passenger terminals and gate areas, the replacement of all escalators in the main terminal, the addition of new shops and restaurants, the building of both a second long term parking garage and a new rental car facility serving all of the major rental companies. Also built was of a two mile long people mover system to connect the main terminal with the new rental car facility and the two long term garages. Throughout all of this construction, there has been almost no disruption of passenger access to the facilities at the airport. I realize that TPA only handles a fraction of the traffic of LGA. But with careful planning along with a PR campaign to discourage people from using private cars in favor of cabs or public transportation to get to and from the airport, I’m sure that the LGA situation could have been better handled.

  • Attention All Passengers

    Domestic travel in the U.S. (or anywhere else) on holidays (or any other time) is the least of our problems — Quote from IHG Hotels brochure —

    ”China is becoming the largest source market for international travel. Already the global leader in tourism departures, it is estimated that China overtook the US as the largest source of international travel spending in 2014. In total, Chinese travellers made over 67.5 million trips in 2014. Annual Chinese arrivals are expected to total nearly 97 million by 2023 at an average annual growth rate of 5.1% over the ten-year forecast horizon.

  • joycexyz

    As a FL resident, I had no idea LGA was being rebuilt. When we visit the NY area we normally fly into HPN, but the fare into LGA just before Thanksgiving was so much cheaper that we could get a limo to our destination and still save. Ack! What a mess! We had to take a bus (with luggage) to a staging area for the limos (all of which are black SUV’s), then find the right one. We survived, but I’m so glad we flew back out of HPN!

  • John McDonald

    Lcc’s are expanding & legacy airlines are copying many lcc features. Look at basic fares. Get udrd to carrying less luggage or psy extra

  • Annie M

    If LGA had mass transit like JFK does- the Air Train or subways- this wouldn’t be half the problem it is. Unfortunately- there is none of that so you are forced to drive- like it or not.

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