WASHINGTON - Flight delays are enough of a headache. Now Congress is saying that getting stuck in airports and on runways is a "$41 billion punch in the gut."
The congressional Joint Economic Committee, in a report released yesterday, found that the total cost of domestic air-traffic delays to the U.S. economy in 2007 was almost $41 billion.
That included $19 billion in extra operating costs for airlines, $12 billion in costs to passengers from reduced productivity and lost business and leisure opportunities, and $10 billion in indirect costs, mainly to food and lodging industries relying on air traffic.
"With the summer travel season being kicked off with Memorial Day, delays and the costs of those delays will only go up," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.), chairman of the committee.
Missed connections, disrupted ground travel plans, lost prepaid hotel reservations, and missed meetings were among the factors considered for passenger costs.
Schumer said the cost estimate was conservative because it did not include flights canceled entirely and applied only to domestic flights.
The costs to the airlines included $1.6 billion to pay for extra jet fuel. The report said there were 740 million additional gallons of jet fuel used, and calculated the cost assuming an average wholesale price of $2.15 a gallon last year.
It said that burning fuel during delays released an additional 7.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The committee examined more than 10 million flight records from the Department of Transportation. It used department guidelines in setting a value of $37.60 per passenger per delay hour.
Those delays reached 320 million hours last year, about 20 percent of domestic flight time. The worst delays were experienced out of major airports in the Northeast and Midwest.
Estimated minutes of departure delay per passenger were 30 minutes out of New York LaGuardia, 27 minutes out of JFK in New York, 25 minutes at Philadelphia International, and 21 minutes at Chicago's O'Hare.
Schumer said the committee found that only 6 percent of delays were caused by weather or security-related issues. The overwhelming causes were systemic congestion problems that will only get worse as air passengers increase their number of trips from about 700 million a year today to an estimated 1.1 billion in 2025.