Even as air travel in the U.S. has grown 30% since 2000, flying under 500 miles has declined by about 30%. That’s a shocking figure.
One major factor seems to be the increased hassle of flying over the last 17 years. That’s not entirely a function of TSA security, increasing the time or at least variability in how long it takes to get through the airport. The longer it takes to travel by air, the more attractive it is either not to go or to take other forms of transportation.
But there are other things that make air travel more of a hassle, like the spread of populations in major urban areas so that they may be farther from the airport. One additional theory would be that plane travel itself is less pleasant, and that’s probably true with service cuts since the Great Recession and with packed flights since the post-recession recovery and industry consolidation, though the trend seems to predate both.
Lots of graphs, the piece considers and largely rejects airline consolidation alone or price increases on short flights as driving the reduction in short haul flying.
As for how big a deal this trend is,
[T]he additional hassle of air travel seems to have had a devastating (albeit not exclusive) effect on short haul air travel. The U.S. airline industry has lost over $770 million in short haul quarterly revenues from reduced traffic in Q1 2017 alone. Over the past 17 years, this adds up to a $33.7 billion (with a “B”) reduction in revenues from passengers flying short-haul sectors below 500 miles.
An annualized $3 billion loss in revenue seems like it would be enough to fight for. It’s difficult to open more government-run airports, and it’s difficult to make flying more seamless. The efforts here have focused on TSA PreCheck, but airlines have also had an incentive to make flying more difficult through TSA security procedures. The government requirement that we show ID, that travelers match itineraries, supports the airline’s revenue management and price discrimination programs for instance.
And airlines didn’t object on behalf of passengers to naked imaging, even no longer in use backscatter imaging machines whose radiation levels may have been unsafe. Airlines didn’t object to full data sharing with the government. Or profiling of passengers. Airlines didn’t support measures that the TSA wanted that would have made screening more efficient, like no longer looking for golf clubs and looking for bombs instead. Carry on clubs remain banned.
(HT: Cranky Flier)