Travelers say they’ll skip the airport and hit the road in 2011

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By Christopher Elliott

How are you traveling in 2011? In some ways, like you did this year. And in some ways not, according to a new survey.

Asked what mode of transportation they planned to use in 2011, most respondents indicated they would stay the course by cruising, driving, flying and using mass transport roughly the same as they did in 2010.

However, a significant number of travelers said they intended to fly less and drive more.

The poll of about 500 travelers, conducted last weekend by the Consumer Travel Alliance, suggests next year could be a busy one for motorists, while demand for air travel could weaken slightly.

When it comes to air travel, a majority — 47 percent — said they planned to fly “about the same” in 2011. About 35 percent said they’d fly less. Only 17 percent said “more,” giving air travel the most negative numbers of any mode of transport.

Driving, on the other hand, had the highest positive ratings of any mode of transport. Nearly 40 percent of respondents said they planned to travel more by car next year. Again, a majority (49 percent) answered “about the same.”

Mass transit had the highest “about the same” numbers — roughly 68 percent.

A closer look at passenger choices:

Cruising may have a choppy year, too, if these numbers are any indication. While about 60 percent of the respondents are staying on course, 27 percent say they plan to cruise less in 2011.

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So what’s behind these results? I asked.

Travelers who don’t want to fly are upset, for the most part, by the Transportation Security Administration’s new screening techniques.

“The new TSA scope-n-grope has finally pushed me too far,” says Katharine Chestnut, a marketer and frequent flier based in Atlanta. “I will limit, as much as possible, all travel by plane. I’m sorry to see the air travel industry suffer over this but it’s time for the US public to stand up for our rights and say, enough is enough.”

Vicki Stone, a virtual assistant from Fort Worth, Texas, says she’s already made the switch.

“My husband and I are already not flying,” she says. “We drove 80 hours round trip to visit Prince Edward Island, Canada instead of flying there, as we had in the past.”

Passenger dissatisfaction to TSA screening procedures

Stone says it isn’t just the TSA’s aggressive new screening techniques, but the airlines’ business practices and dismal customer service.

“The airlines just added fuel to the fire when they started charging fees for luggage,” she says.

Bunnee Butterfield, a retiree from Lakewood, Wash., says she’s already canceled a trip planned for March, in part because of the pat-down problem.

“I will have to go to Boston in the spring, but have given some thought to leaving from a smaller airport with no scanners — yet,” she says.

Mary Graham sums up the feelings of a lot of travelers, which is that a combination of the TSA’s screening techniques and a lack of customer service are pushing her away from air travel.

“I got to a boiling point this year when the airline industry peaked at being sneaky about all their lovely fees and horrible customer service to boot. I decided to stop flying as my small effort of protest,” she says. “Then came the abusive, touchy-feely TSA agents and their radioactive porn machine. Oh my goodness, I saw the steam coming out of my ears and I knew it was all over for me.” (Here’s how to handle the TSA when you travel.)

What would cause travelers to return? One place to start is by unplugging the scanners, says Rachel Kingman, a hotel manager from Hartford, Conn.

“I am going to fly less and drive and use mass transit more,” she says. “My local airport has the body scanners and I am not going to fly unless absolutly necessary until they are gone. I have the right to choose who sees me naked and I refuse to allow a random person to molest me just for the convenience of flying.”

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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