Air travelers already know the frustration of endlessly waiting for a plane to arrive or depart, but now a new study has put a dollar amount on the economic toll of the problem and it’s big.
Flight delays cost the nation $32.9 billion in 2007, with passengers on the hook for more than half of that amount, according to research released by the University of California-Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies.
“This is the most comprehensive study done to date analyzing the monetary cost of airline flight delays,” said Mark Hansen, the lead researcher, in a statement.
“Flight delay is a serious and widespread problem that places a significant strain on the U.S. air travel system and its customers.”
Here is how the figure breaks down: Air travelers paid $16.7 billion in lost time due to delayed flights, flight cancellations and missed connections, plus expenses such as food and accommodations.
The researchers also recognized that many people spend extra time away from home because they fear and expect flight delays.
“If I have a meeting that begins at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Washington, I would likely fly out from Boston on Monday night rather than early on Tuesday, just to ensure that I arrive on time,” said Cynthia Barnhart, one of the co-authors, in a statement.
Meanwhile, flight delays forced airlines to pay $8.3 billion in increased expenses for crew, fuel and maintenance, according to the study. The carriers also saw almost $4 billion in lost demand due to passengers who avoided air travel because of delays.
The country’s economy as a whole suffered, too, the study found. Since air travel inefficiencies raise the cost of doing business for companies, the U.S. gross domestic product was reduced by $4 billion in 2007, the study said.
The Federal Aviation Administration commissioned the research.
The study authors note that many flight delays, such as those caused by mechanical problems or severe weather, are unavoidable. But they also point out the problem of airspace congestion.
“The results of this study suggest that policies and mechanisms that discourage overscheduling should be considered,” the authors note.
So far this year, more than 18 percent of flights have arrived or departed at least 15 minutes late, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.