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5 hours to pick a plane flight?

Many travelers take that long -- and longer -- in search of the best bargain and the just-right flight. That could create problems for the airlines up the road.

By doubleace Feb 24, 2011 8:41AM

This post comes from Lynn Mucken at MSN Money.

 

I wasn't too surprised to learn that 20% of travelers spend five hours or more searching for and selecting an airline flight. Over a two-month period last year, my wife spent at least that long securing our tickets to Europe: San Diego to Amsterdam going, Paris to San Diego returning.

Our requirements weren't particularly complex. We were flexible on the day of flight, both coming and going, and our only time constraint was a desire to arrive in Amsterdam with plenty of time to catch the bus to outlying Haarlem and find our hotel in daylight. We also wanted no more than one stop each way. Most of her time was spent searching for -- waiting for? -- the best price.

 

It wasn't even surprising to learn that 9% of leisure travelers and 1% percent of business travelers spend about eight hours securing their flight. I know those people. Post continues after video.

On a newspaper at which I once worked, I was in a direct path between two veteran explorers who took joy in one-upping each other on ticket prices.

 

"Lisbon, $318, including tax. Saturday flight," one would brag. "I have $285 to Nampula, only five stops. Includes the donkey ride to Zambezi," the other would crow a few days later.

 

According to the division of IBM that did the survey that came up with the above statistics, my two friends are "maximizers," people who are willing to sift through an unlimited amount of material to get what they want, which usually is the lowest price.

 

The rest of us are "satisficers," says IBM's Global Business Services, which produces software and hardware for reservation systems and other airline services, and did a report on the future of the airline industry.

 

"The common perception is that the more choices presented to the consumer, the happier he or she will be with the provider," said the report. "Surprisingly, academic research suggests that the converse is often more accurate. Consumers who face too much choice are more likely to be dissatisfied. … In the academic context, an assortment size of 24 was considered large for most consumers, but (airline) travelers typically face far more choices than that."

And that's a problem. You would think the satisficers would be content with going to an airline website, typing in a number or three and popping the buy button. Doesn't work that way.

 

The No. 1 criterion in picking airline tickets is, of course, cost. According to IBM, only 41% of travelers would spend 10% more to fly on their favorite airline. They will kiss off United after 20 years of satisfaction to save $30 with American on a midweek cross-continent flight in April.

 

So instead they search through the many possibilities -- and steam -- for an average of two hours. And that is a problem for the airlines, because what they sell above all is not "friendly skies" or "something special in the air," it's speed.

 

"Speed has enabled passengers to satisfy their desire to travel farther without increasing the amount of time they must allocate to travel," IBM's report said. "Historically, airlines have satisfied the demand for a speedier travel experience with faster aircraft, but they are on the cusp of losing this advantage as more laborious search processes, constant security delays and more frequent baggage hassles combine to increase point-to-point journey times.

 

"Evidence suggests that many customers have indeed come to see substitutes as a more viable alternative to air travel and are willing to change if given a choice," the report added. "Many travelers have high expectations about substitute technologies, and express a clear willingness to explore these alternatives when and if they are available."

 

So, what are we talking about here? High-speed rail, of course. 

 

I can hear my buddies now. "Seven hours and 49 minutes, LA to Dallas; didn't even have time to nod off," says one. "I did Atlanta-Chicago in four," would come the reply. "Would have been quicker but we hit a cow in southern Indiana."

 

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