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Flight delays drag down economy

| Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010

Flight delays cost U.S. society $32.9 billion a year, the bulk of that borne by travelers who miss business meetings or arrive home late, a study finds.

The study by researchers at five universities says traditional measures of delay dramatically underestimate the effect on passengers. All told, people on airline flights were delayed by more than 28,000 years during 2007, the year the researchers studied.

The cost to individuals in lost time and inefficiency was $16.7 billion, the study says. Only a small fraction of travelers - ones who miss connections or whose flights are canceled - suffer about half of that cost.

"We call those guys disrupted passengers," says Cynthia Barnhart, interim dean of engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an author of the study.

The research, which was funded by the Federal Aviation Administration, also finds that when the aviation system gums up, it creates a significant drag on the economy. Delays reduced the nation's gross economic output by $4 billion in 2007. They also cost airlines $8.3 billion.

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