Travel Trends

Airline Industry Not Expected to See Growth in Winter Holiday Travel

A recent Maritz(R) Poll showed that the vast majority of those traveling over the winter holidays will choose to drive, rather than fly.

Maritz Research While nearly one in five Americans (19 percent) plan to travel sometime in December or early January, six out of 10 (58 percent) of these holiday travelers will drive and one-third (35 percent) will choose to fly the friendly skies. The remainder will travel by train, bus or some other means.

When considered against the total number of poll respondents, the numbers traveling by car versus plane are consistent with similar Maritz Polls taken over the past two years:

                              2005         2004         2003
Your own car 11 percent 9 percent 10 percent
Airplane 7 percent 8 percent 6 percent

"With gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon at the time the poll was taken, which is also around the same time people would have booked their flights, I anticipated that some who normally drive would choose to fly," said Rick Garlick, director of strategic consulting for Maritz Hospitality Research Group. "However, there is no noteworthy shift toward air travel. This means it could be a flat holiday season for the airline industry, which could use a shot in the arm in a year when several major airlines have declared bankruptcy."

In addition, the bankruptcies don't seem to be affecting which airlines holiday travelers are choosing. According to the poll, major airline carriers have been successful in their battle against regional carriers, such as Southwest Airlines, despite the fact that Delta, Northwest and United declared bankruptcy in 2005. Two out of three winter holiday air travelers (67 percent) intend to fly American, Northwest, Delta, Continental, United or US Air, compared to 33 percent planning to use a regional carrier.

"Consumers don't appear to be concerned when it comes to booking holiday travel on major airlines that have declared bankruptcy," says Garlick. "One reason could be that regional carriers typically service tourist destinations, and may not be an option for holiday trips home. Or, more likely, it could be that airline bankruptcies historically have little effect on flights or frequent-flier accounts."

However, the picture isn't entirely rosy for major airlines, according to Garlick: "Because major airline carriers have been forced to keep their prices low to compete with regional carriers, they haven't been able to recoup financial losses suffered earlier this year as a result of dramatic fuel price increases. In addition, planes that appear full of passengers don't necessarily reflect greater travel volume, but rather are a result of reduced flight schedules."

Maritz Poll is a national consumer opinion survey conducted periodically by Maritz Research. The recent telephone poll, conducted October 18-31, 2005, featured responses from 2,007 randomly selected adults from throughout the United States. Respondents for this poll were split evenly between males and females. Sampling error for the overall poll is +/-2 percent. The survey polled Americans on their holiday travel plans, their finances in relation to travel and gas prices, modes of travel/transportation, and their opinions about travel, holiday dining, hotel accommodations and service. Maritz Research has been conducting similar holiday travel polls yearly since 2001.

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