Volume 3, Issue 3 August 2003

Volume 3, Issue 3
August 2003

Airline Passenger Travel

Based on data from the Omnibus Household Survey,1 (Table 1) the Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimates that about one out of every three (74 million) adult US residents 2 flew at least once on a commercial airline during the 12 months prior to the survey.

When asked to describe their most recent flight, about 23 percent of travelers reported that the flight was for business or was work-related. Proportionally, more men (32 percent) than women (13 percent) reported that their most recent flight was for business or was work-related.3

Four out of five airline travelers (79 percent) reported that, for their most recent flight, their seat was in the coach or economy section4 of the aircraft and three out of five (59 percent) reported that their ticket carried restrictions (e.g. length of stay, day of travel, penalty for changes).

About three out of five airline passengers (62 percent) obtained a boarding pass for their most recent flight at the ticket counter while 13 percent used curb-side check-in, 12 percent used a self-service kiosk, 6 percent used the Internet, and 4 percent obtained one at the departure gate.

On average, travelers reported arriving at the airport about one hour and 43 minutes before their scheduled departure time. Almost nine out of ten passengers (87 percent) reported spending 30 minutes or less at security checkpoints. The average time spent to clear a security checkpoint was 18 minutes. 5 Over half of airline passengers (53 percent) felt that the amount of time they spent at the security checkpoint was about what they expected while 37 percent reported their wait time was less than expected and 10 percent reported the wait was more than expected. For those passengers who checked in at the ticket counter, the average time spent waiting in line at the counter was 22 minutes.

The majority of passengers (83 percent) felt the thoroughness of the screening process was adequate and 74 percent reported that screening procedures were consistent at departure airports. Four out of five passengers (82 percent) reported having a moderate amount, a great deal, or total confidence in the ability of the passenger screeners to keep air travel secure from individuals with hostile intentions. About four out of five passengers reported that they were satisfied with the courtesy of the airport screeners (81 percent) and with their overall experience at the security checkpoint (79 percent).

Regarding the changes in passenger screening procedures since September 11, 2001 and the impact of those changes on the inclination to travel via commercial airlines, 25 percent of adults reported that the changes have made them less inclined to fly, 68 percent reported that the changes have had no impact on their inclination to fly, and 8 percent reported that they are now more inclined to fly. A significantly higher percentage of women (29 percent) than men (20 percent) reported that they are less inclined to use commercial airlines due to changes in passenger screening procedures.6

About one out of five adult US residents (18 percent) reported that they had never flown on a commercial airline. Compared to flyers, non-flyers were much more likely to

  • report having a disability or health impairment
  • be under 25 years of age
  • have no more than a high school education
  • have a yearly household income of less than $30,000.

Source and Accuracy Statements

Methodology. Data presented in this OmniStats are taken from the several issues of the 2003 BTS Omnibus Household Survey (covering activities in the months prior to the survey). Data are preliminary and are subject to change. The target population for the survey is the adult (18 years or older) non-institutionalized population of the US. Results are based on a completed bi-monthly sample of 1000+ households that are randomly selected using a list-assisted random digit dialing (RDD) methodology.

Margin of Error. Survey data provide estimates of population parameters and are subject to error because findings are based on a sample, rather than on the entire population. Standard error estimates for each Omnibus Survey item are available on the BTS website for the Omnibus Survey at http://www.bts.gov/omnibus/household/index.html. After selecting the month of interest, choose "Marginal Frequency Distributions." Margins of error for findings in this report are shown in the table above (based on a 95% confidence interval). Estimates are also subject to nonsampling error, e.g., coding, transcription, or data coding errors. These errors would occur if a census survey was conducted under the same circumstances.

Contacts. For additional information, contact the following individuals:
Survey questions: lori.putman@bts.gov (202-366-4743)
This report: june.jones@bts.gov (202-366-5336)
Media inquiries: roger.lotz@bts.gov (202-366-2246)

1 Results are averaged over 4 months of data-February, April, June, and August 2003.

2 Non-institutionalized US residents, 18 years or older.

3 Significant at p

4 Data for one major airline showed that, for those planes with separate seating sections, about 85% of the seats were in the economy or coach section.

5 August results showed a significant decline to 14 minutes; however, additional data are necessary to determine if this decline represents a trend change.

6 Significant at p

NOTE: Percentages may not sum to 100 percent due to independent rounding. Response values for "Don't know" and "Refused" are not included in the table.

Source: US Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Omnibus Household Survey. Data from the February, April, June, and August 2003 surveys have been combined. Data cover activities for the month prior to the survey.