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Crowded airliners and enhanced airport security cause shift to charter jets and rental cars

With commercial airliners more crowded and heightened security measures threatening long delays at airports, private charter jet companies and rental car agencies may be beneficiaries of the growing airport headaches.

A Zogby International poll released last week found that 42% of likely voters said that enhanced pat-down search techniques and the increased use of full-body scanners by the Transportation Security Administration would cause them to use a different mode of transportation.

The trade groups that represent private charter jets and rental car businesses say the switch has already begun.

Demand for charter jets is up 52% so far in November over the same period last year, said Joe Leader, president of the Air Taxi-Air Charter Assn., a trade group for charter jet companies.

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“The majority of that can be credited to an increase in business travel and economic recovery, but the TSA security hassle factor has absolutely had an additive effect on air taxi and air charter demand,” he said.

Meanwhile, the American Car Rental Assn. reported an increase of 6% to 11% in rental business so far in November over the same period last year, an improvement that association Executive Director Sharon Faulkner attributes partly to the growing hassles of air travel.

You can blame the airport headaches on a rebounding economy and new security threats.

As the economy has begun to pick up steam, business travelers and vacationers who stayed close to home during the depths of the recession have begun to fly again, but airlines have resisted adding planes to accommodate the growth.

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As a result, airlines are packing their cabins as close to capacity as possible. In August, the nation’s airlines flew at 85.3% of capacity, the highest percentage for any August ever, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

A passenger’s attempt to detonate hidden explosives aboard a Dec. 25 flight also prompted the TSA to toughen security measures at the nation’s airports.

Why does Faulkner, the rental car spokeswoman, suspect the new security measures are a factor in the increased rental car rates?

“The last I heard, none of the rental agencies are searching customers before they rent a car,” she said. “No one is getting patted down at rental agencies.”

Airlines’ extra fees gobble up big bucks

Next to crowded airplane cabins and long security lines, airline fees are no doubt on the list of greatest frustrations for airline passengers.

Last week, the Consumer Travel Alliance, a nonprofit consumer interest group, calculated that American travelers would spend about $167 million over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend paying extra airline fees.

The group estimated that all those fees paid over the holiday could buy 12 million turkeys — at retail prices. “It’s time to talk turkey and show consumers what their tickets will cost with all the fixings included,” said Charlie Leocha, director of the alliance.

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Another critic of airline fees, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) made a plea last week for passage of his legislation that would require airlines to spell out on their websites the exact prices to check luggage, to switch flights and to fly standby, among other charges.

“At a time when families are watching every last penny, they should have a full understanding of what they will be expected to pay not just to get to the airport, but to get to their destination,” Menendez said at a news conference at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.

Ding! You are now free to have a drink.

In perhaps an effort to lighten the mood for the holidays, American Airlines last week announced plans to launch in-flight happy hours throughout December. On every flight in the U.S., Mexico, Canada and the Caribbean that departs between 5 and 5:59 p.m., the airline will sell alcoholic drinks for $5 each.

On American flights departing at other times, liquor and wine sells in the coach section for $7, and beer goes for $6.

Not to be outdone, Southwest announced via Twitter that each passenger who flew Thanksgiving Day would get a free alcoholic drink. After the freebie, drinks were $5 each.

hugo.martin@latimes.com


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