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Fliers OK with airport safety waits, if they’re consistent

By Dave Jones on September 29, 2006 in University

A UC Davis study of post-9/11 air travelers found that men were more likely than women to be bothered by slow airport-security screenings, and lower-income earners were more likely than upper-income earners to be bothered.

In addition, the more reluctant that people were to fly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the more likely that these people were to be bothered by slow screenings.

But overall, the study found that people might be willing to endure long waits for airport security screenings, especially if delays were consistent at specific airports and at particular times of day.

The study should be helpful to airlines and security providers as they try to strike a balance between traveler safety and customer service.

"There is no question the time air passengers spend waiting for security is important, but this is only a proxy for the underlying desire to have consistent procedures from travel experience to travel experience," said Deb Niemeier, a UC Davis professor of civil and environmental engineering. "Most passengers want to know how long it's going to take, and intrinsic to that is what they can expect."

Niemeier and two Purdue University researchers analyzed data from traveler surveys in 2002 and 2003, and found:

  • People earning more than $75,000 per year were 5 percent more likely to be satisfied with the speed of airport-security screening.
  • Men were 3.9 percent less likely than women to be satisfied.
  • Passengers with four-year college degrees or master's degrees were 23 percent more likely to be satisfied.
  • Customers indicating that they were reluctant to travel after the Sept. 11 attacks were 17.9 percent less likely to be satisfied.

The study, published this week in the Journal of Air Transportation Management, was written by Niemeier, an expert in transportation infrastructure policy; and Konstantina Gkritza, a Purdue graduate student in civil engineerin; and Purdue civil engineering professor Fred Mannering. Niemeier is also director of UC Davis' John Muir Institute of the Environment,

The researchers noted that they found year-to-year differences on some points. In 2002, higher-earning people were less likely to be satisfied with screening speeds, and men were more likely to be satisfied. Those results were opposite the 2003 findings. Also in 2003, the age groups 55-64 and 75 and older were more likely to be satisfied; in 2002, passengers in the age groups 25-34 and 45-54 years old were less likely to satisfied.

The researchers said the variations suggested that it would be helpful for the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics to resume the annual surveys, which were discontinued after 2003.

"The take-home message for government and industry is that you should not focus solely on reducing wait time if you want to improve customer satisfaction," Mannering said. "Of course, you should reduce wait time, but you should reduce the variation in wait time as well. After all, people don't necessarily have to fly, especially for some of the shorter trips."

The complete study text is available online:

Media contact(s)

Dave Jones, Dateline, 530-752-6556,