Business travelers use fewer short-hop flights

An airplane flies past the moon.

Steve Chiotakis: Airlines have cut back short-haul routes by almost 25 percent in the past five years.

Alex Goldmark reports now from station WNYC in New York, it's the business traveler who's feeling the pinch.

Alex Goldmark: Neil Shah used to fly a lot -- eight to 15 times a month as a management consultant. But he started to feel like it wasn't the best use of his time.

Neil Shah: Getting to the airport, waiting in the security lines. You know, there's the potential for delay.

Shaving off 30 minutes may not matter much on a trip to Berlin, but it sure matters Boston to New York.

Shah: If all things were equal, my preference would be to fly. However, all of these other things have accumulated that make other means of travel just more convenient.

Scott Gibson is the head of ICF Skyworks, an airline advisory firm.

Scott Gibson: There are just fewer people flying in these short-haul markets.

Gibson gives the example of Kansas City to St. Louis. That route had as many as 30 flights a day in late '90s; now there are nine. A big part of the trend is fuel.

Gibson: A lot of the fuel burn is in takeoff and landing. The airplane is really efficient when it's up high in the air. And so as fuel costs have gone up, it actually impacts short-haul flights as a percent of the airfare more than it impacts long-haul flying.

Plus airports are charging carriers more per passenger. So one response has been to use bigger planes, but fewer flights.

John Happ: We actually reduced the number of flights but we gained more seats.

John Happ is the president of the Texas Airports Council and a pilot. At his small Easterwood Field in College Station, there are about 10 flights a day, mostly to Dallas and Houston.

Happ: I see more and more corporate aircraft coming through than what we used to have.

That's because businessmen don't want to waste time waiting for the next flight, he says. And even Happ admits the air schedules weren't convenient the last time he had a meeting in Dallas.

Happ: If I'd a flown into Dallas, I'd have been there hours before my meeting, and that time is valuable to me.

So the pilot drove, three hours, each way.

In New York, I'm Alex Goldmark for Marketplace.

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Very interesting trend. Thanks for the piece. It raises many interesting questions though. Is this having a significant impact on fuel consumption? What are the impacts from a CO2 and emmissions perspective? What alternatives (other than the ones the airlines are taking) are being taken up to pick up the slack? Does this put wind in the sails of solutions like high speed rail? Are people now traveling less or just traveling differently?

Although perhaps Mr. Happ, who after all is from Taxas, stated that "businessmen" do not want to waste time, you could have changed the reference to businesspeople. That word would have been more fair and more accurate. As a person who makes his living from using language, you should be more sensitive to its effect.

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