Like a Mirror: Airline survey gives telling data about US Air Travellers.


Last Tuesday, some great stats came out about the state air travel in the USA. For example, the number of Americans flying last year hit a new record with forty-nine percent of the population taking at least one air trip.  That does mean 51 percent of the US population did not fly in 2016. Eleven percent of Americans have never flown, down from the year before. I find it astounding that one in ten Americans have never been inside a plane for an air journey.

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Eighty-nine percent of people took less than five air trips last year, seven percent between six and ten. Four percent of fliers (about two percent of all Americans) are the road warriors flying more than ten times in a year. Considering I know some US fliers who take 100+ trips a year, they must be a very small percentage of all air travellers.

All in all, last year, each flier took an average of 4.5 air trips.

Half of the trips (51%) were for leisure reasons, 31% for business and 18% for other personal reasons including travelling to school or attending a family event.

68% of 2016 fliers belong to at least one Frequent Flyer Program. Yet with most people taking less than five trips, only a small percentage of fliers will be getting any real or regular benefit from their memberships. Those four percent road warriors again!

1105 Frontier - 01What is telling that when we choose an airline, price is the primary consideration irrespective of the trip’s purpose. No surprises here. For the 89% who take less than five trips, I am going to assume price is going to be absolutely imperative. This gives airlines littles incentive but to minimise prices. IMG_4586It explains why Virgin America struggled, for example. Classy airline but competing on groovy interiors, good food, solid in-flight entertainment does not stack up in a market looking for lowest common price. For the road warriors, they are doing all they can to squeeze every bonus, benefit and upgrade in a nickel and dime environment.

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54 percent of all personal international trips were booked 22 days plus with 27% being three months plus. By contrast, almost one-quarter (22%) of all international business trips were booked under three days before travel.


Eighty-two percent of all air trips by Americans are to destinations within the North American region namely: USA (64%), Canada (7%), Mexico (5%) and the Caribbean (6%). The remaining 18 percent are across the rest of the world. Eight percent of air travellers go to Europe- more Americans fly there than fly to Canada ( many of course drive to Canadian cities and towns).

A recent survey by MAST of 166 Travel Agents says that eight percent of customers booked for Mexican destinations have cancelled their plans this year: “The intensifying issues of immigration, the border wall, and trade are, in my view, going to cause some customers to think twice about a vacation in Mexico if they feel they are not welcome,”.

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Salt Lake City

Only three per cent of air trips by US passengers are to the Asia-Pacific region. I am always astounded at how few Americans I see as I travel across Asia and now I see the stats. It is a shame because exposure to other cultures could be very helpful to understand the wider world. After all, Asia is home to 4.4 billion people who live in 48 countries and speak 2,197 languages. Likewise, only one percent of air travellers end up in the Middle East. If there is one region, Americans need to get to know and understand, this is it. Sadly, I have heard some incredibly irrational generalisations about the world from people I have met in the USA due to lack of first-hand experience.

MAST also says that 49% said clients have expressed concern about travelling anywhere outside of the United States. This is disappointing and sad that people feel uncertain and scared of a world which is generally very welcoming and accepting. It also has implications for travel agents, airlines and tour companies.


Myself in Hong Kong

On personal trips, 17 percent of Americans fly alone and 45 percent travel with one other person (couples). 34 percent have between two and four travel companions (presume families). 34 percent of Business air flights are spent as a solo flier.

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16 percent of travellers on personal trips to domestic destinations checked no luggage in and seven percent did the same on international trips. On Business trips it was 22 percent and nine percent. More than half of all passengers check in one bag and a small number (around 2 to 4 percent depending on destination) check in four bags! They are the ones the airlines love for their fee revenue! Despite fees on bags, more people checked bags through last year than the year before and 18 percent of passengers who paid to check a bag in did so at the airport. The airlines really love those people because they are paying the highest check in fees!

Four percent of travellers on a domestic personal trip have no carry-on bags and two percent have four carry-on items! They are the ones, the storage bin fights are with! About two-thirds have just one carry-on item (although no one mentioned the carry-on size!). Business travellers are slightly more likely to have no carry-on and slightly less likely to have multiple items.

34 percent of American fliers say security is the most stressful part of a trip followed by reliability (18%) and buying the tickets (17%). For domestic tickets for personal travel, 55% are bought from an airline’s website, 37% from an online travel agent and just four percent from a traditional travel agent. For personal travel to international destinations, most tickets are bought from an on-line travel agent (41%), followed by the airline’s website (39%). 16% are bought from a traditional travel agent, a slight rise on the year before although this could be a statistical anomaly when taking the credibility interval into account.

Customer satisfaction with air travel was up in 2016. 85% of air passengers said they were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their overall experience, yet 56 percent said they will fly less in 2017 than they did in 2016.

These findings are from an Ipsos poll conducted January 6-13, 2017 on behalf of Airlines for America, the Trade organisation representing the principal US airlines. For the survey, a sample of 5,047 adults age 18+ from the continental U.S., Alaska and Hawaii was interviewed online in English. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points for all respondents.

Like a Mirror, these findings help us to understand the US public, and has implications for how the airline industry markets and provides service.

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