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Business air travel losing ground

ATA says business travel is down 17 percent from last year

Business air travel losing ground

From Kathleen Koch

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- They are the few, the tired, the remaining business passengers -- and they're increasingly fed up with the headaches of air travel.

"I'm very frustrated," business flier Bob James said. "I travel two or three times a month, and I sure wish I didn't have to. Because if I didn't have to, I sure wouldn't."

The Air Transport Association (ATA), which represents the airlines, says business travel is down 17 percent from a year ago -- while options such as video and teleconferencing are up 50 percent to 100 percent. The use of corporate jets also is on the rise.

Amtrak -- while troubled overall in recent months -- is on a roll, too. Ridership last month was up 6 percent nationwide. And for the first time, more people are taking the train than the plane between Washington and New York.

Not just the attacks' impact

Many companies were trimming travel budgets before September 11 because of the slumping economy. But the terrorist attacks prompted them to get creative, trying Webcasts in an effort to be more efficient and competitive.

"I think you will see less business travel in my industry as a result of that," said Henson Moore, president of the American Forest and Paper Association. "But it's not so much anything driven by September 11, except that forced us for a few months to figure out how to do business differently."

If business travelers do come back, they won't put up with the exorbitant fares of the past, industry experts predict.

"There is anarchy out there," said Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition. "Business travelers are no longer just paying the walk-up fare. They are looking on the Internet. They are going for the Saturday night stays. They are looking for every way to save money."

A few airlines are responding, eliminating the Saturday night stayover restrictions and offering a discount for advance bookings.

But some business travelers say it's too little, too late, and that the hassle factor has become too high to tolerate.

"They made me hold up my hands, take off my shoes, asked me all kind of questions," traveler Ronald Smith said of his security screening. "I said to myself, 'This isn't worth it. I'm not flying anymore.' I mean this is nothing but a hassle."


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