Fed Up with Flying: Survey Finds Big Change in Americans' Holiday Plans

·Associate Travel Editor

The scene at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport during Christmas week last year. It seems fewer people will be dealing with crowded airports this year. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

Flying during the holidays has never been an amusement-park ride, but if one survey has it right, travelers this year are fed up with increasing fares and will be ditching their boarding passes for their car keys this year — by a wide margin.

The survey by Airfarewatchdog asked more than 3,300 travelers a simple question: Will you be flying for the holidays this year? Thirteen percent answered, “Yes, I always fly for the holidays,” which is a precipitous drop from the 32 percent who said so in 2013.

The number who replied, “Yes, this is the first time in several years that I’ll be flying,” dropped to 10 percent from last year’s 15 percent.

Meanwhile, the inconveniences and costs of air travel led to more negative responses this year. Forty-nine percent of those polled answered, “No, it’s too expensive” — an increase from 34 percent last year. Also, 19 percent said, “No, I’d rather drive a few extra hours than have to deal with the delays and long lines,” up from 11 percent last year.

With gas prices falling, more people will be packing up the car for the holidays. (Thinkstock)

An additional 9 percent said, “No, skies are too crowded.” That’s one percentage point more than last year.

Overall, the number of people who said they would fly fell from 47 percent in 2013 to 23 percent in 2014. 

In analyzing the survey, Airfarewatchdog CEO George Hobica said this: “Have the airlines over-reached? Seats are less comfortable, fares and fees are higher, and it seems that consumers are saying enough is enough. Compared with last year, there’s been a significant drop in respondents saying that they’ll fly for the holidays this year, and a huge increase in those saying they’d rather drive.

“Although there are still some remarkably low fares, the perception is that consumers are paying more for a less pleasurable flying experience, and they’d rather stay home or drive.”

Related: Infographic: The Cheapest States for Gas, Just in Time for Your Pre-winter Road Trip

The decision about whether to drive or fly has traditionally involved weighing the pros and cons of both: distance, time, cost, weather, the hassle of airport security, traffic, etc. But the tipping point may come down to this: gas is cheaper now. As in, cheaper than it’s been in four years.

Delays and long lines will keep some travelers away from flying this year. (Thinkstock)

And while drivers get to enjoy savings at the pump, fliers aren’t reaping those benefits. An Associated Press analysis found that fares rose 3.5 percent from September 2013 to September 2014. Rather than passing on their sizable fuel savings to customers, airlines are pocketing them for themselves and their investors.

Add in the fact that families have to pay for each person’s plane ticket but pay the same costs of one person as of the whole family for a road trip, and it makes sense that driving is making a comeback — no matter how often the kids ask if you’re there yet.

As we reported last week, a TripAdvisor survey of Thanksgiving travelers had similar findings, though not as dramatic. While more people said they planned to travel this year than last, 43 percent over 36 percent, more people said they’d drive than fly than they did last year. 

The hassle of U.S. air travel may only be getting worse in the years ahead. A report released Nov. 18 by the nonprofit U.S. Travel Association said that within 10 years, 27 of the busiest 30 airports in the U.S. will have two days per week that are as congested as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. 

Watch: Lower Fuel Prices Mean Little for Airfare Costs

Let Yahoo Travel inspire you every day. Hang out with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.