Modernize air travel

Jim Talent and Ed Rendell
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The summer air travel season has hit record numbers this year, but travelers have continued to express frustration with air travel hassles. Most of that frustration is undergirded by frequent flight delays and cancellations, and yet no one seems to be focused on addressing these frustrations or creating a pathway for an improved air travel experience. The reality is delays and cancellations are symptoms of failed infrastructure.

Congestion was certainly magnified for travelers on the move this past Labor Day weekend with travel volumes estimated to reach the highest levels in six years. The holiday, which is typically known for heavy traffic on the roads, was also described as “insanely busy” in the air. One report indicated that demand for plane tickets on Labor Day weekend was up 20 percent compared to the same period last year.

This news continues to leave flyers feeling on edge given the current state of air travel infrastructure in the United States. The aviation systems on which travelers depend have failed to meet demand to the point that congestion will soon reach all-time highs.

Our airports typically face their greatest travel burden during the week of Thanksgiving, yet a recent airport capacity analysis revealed that without adequate investment in our infrastructure, Thanksgiving-like travel conditions will become an everyday reality at nearly all of the nation’s 30 largest airports within the next 10 years.

The fact is that air travel infrastructure, including our airports, runways and baggage systems, has declined so significantly that flying has become an increasingly oppressive experience for consumers. In the first half of 2014, flight delays have been on the rise, reaching the highest levels since 2008 mostly as a result of increased demand and outdated technology. Further, we have witnessed the greatest number of flight cancellations since 2000. This new normal is not only giving travelers heartburn, it’s hurting our economy.

While capacity and infrastructure issues leave travelers frustrated, they are also negatively impacting consumer behavior. Many travelers will pass on trips they would have otherwise taken, leading to billions of dollars in lost consumer spending and tourism revenue.

America was once a global leader in air travel, with the most modern transportation system that quickly and safely connected travelers to their destinations. Now, the United States has fallen behind, and our aging air travel infrastructure is inhibiting economic growth and stunting America’s competitiveness in the global market. In a 2014 ranking, not a single U.S. airport ranked in the top 25 among all airports globally. It’s time to address these issues and work together to pave a path forward that helps America regain its primacy as an air travel leader.

We can, and must, do better. To get there, we will need an earnest effort to finalize common sense, bipartisan federal policies to make air travel safer, more efficient, and more commercially competitive for all Americans.

That’s why we are joining together to support changes to our air travel system. We’re working with consumers and businesses in a united effort to seek to encourage greater and more efficient air travel by promoting the necessary changes to modernize airport infrastructure, advance aviation technology, and enhance consumer protections.

Former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, and former Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pennsylvania, are Leadership Council co-chairs of the Travelers’ Voice Coalition.

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