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Millions of travelers just say 'No' to flying

According to a newly released study by the Travel Industry Association (TIA), travelers avoided 41 million airline trips over the past 12 months.

While the volume of flight dodgers may be news, the overall finding does little more than confirm the obvious. Less obvious, and more controversial, is the specific reason for the current aversion to flying.

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According to the TIA, "Travelers are most irritated about the air travel process, not the airlines. Issues the federal government can address are travelers' top concerns: delays, cancellations and inefficient security screening."

The airlines, in other words, are not the problem—the government is.

Huh?

I'm not privy to the TIA's questionnaire or to the assumptions underlying their data analysis. But I'm very skeptical of the TIA's finding that absolves the airlines from blame and suggests that the solutions to the current air travel mess lie elsewhere.

The TIA cites three "top concerns" as delays, cancellations, and inefficient screening. Since the Transportation Security Administration is responsible for airport security checkpoints, that aspect of the travel experience is indeed attributable to the government. But delays and cancellations, to the extent they are not weather-related, are mostly the responsibility of the airlines themselves. As are packed planes, shoddy service, dishonest pricing, devalued mileage programs, and the other frustrations and indignities that make flying such an unpleasant experience.

I don't doubt for a minute that significant numbers of consumers have avoided flying lately. I certainly have. As have my family and friends. As have many of my readers. But their reasons are strikingly at odds with those reported in the TIA's study.

Which leads me to wonder: Who, exactly, is the TIA? And more importantly, whose interests do they represent?

The organization's tagline is as follows: "The Travel Industry Association is the national, non-profit organization representing all components of the $740 billion travel industry." National, OK. Non-profit, maybe, although that doesn't guarantee their neutrality. But representing "all components" of the travel industry?

In my mind the most important component of the travel universe isn't the airlines, or the travel distributors, or the airports, or the government. It's the traveling public. And the many travelers who have shared their opinions with me are all but unanimous in identifying the main cause of their distaste for flying: the airlines.

The expression coined by the American philosopher John Dewey comes to mind here: "A problem well defined is a problem half-solved." Except in the case of the TIA report, the converse applies: A problem badly defined is a problem far from being solved.

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