Although Israeli travelers are always keen to get the best price for a flight, researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and two other institutions have found that those worried about terrorist attacks or accidents are willing to pay more for their tickets, choosing El Al for its security instead of lower-priced airlines.

The research was published recently in Journal of Travel Research. The survey was designed by Dr. Anat Tchetchik of the Beersheba university’s department of hotel and tourism management at the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management; Prof. Aliza Fleischer of The Hebrew University; and Prof. Tomer Toledo of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. It assesses respondents’ choices for airlines and itineraries based on the impact of their fear of flying.

They claimed it is the first study to integrate the psychological factor “fear of flying,” or FOF as a variable to determine, among other factors, passengers’ flight itinerary preferences.

“Due to accumulation of media exposure of flight accidents, fear of flying is on the rise, even though statistics show that air travel is the safest means of travel,” said Tchetchik.

For a growing number of travelers suffering from FOF, air travel is a stressful and unpleasant experience, they said. Back in 1978, it was estimated that that the cost to the domestic US air travel industry was $1.6 billion in lost revenue.

“How the public makes its choices on mode of traveling and how it affects willingness to pay for alternative flight options is an issue of immense concern for public agencies and the industry,” the researchers wrote.

The team questioned 335 Israeli students and offered each several menus of alternative flight itineraries from Israel to London and Israel to New York. The itineraries differed by several factors, among them the carrier conducting the flight, specifically EL AL, Delta, Israir, Thomson and British Airways, whether the flight was a non-stop or connecting flight, whether it departed during day or night time, and the price.

The researchers found that those with greater fear of flying were more willing to buy tickets from EL AL, the formerly government-owned national carrier, rather than a foreign carrier or a charter. They were also willing to pay more for a day flight than a night flight and for a direct one than a connecting one.

Sometimes, the differences ranged from tens of dollars for the London flight into the hundreds of dollars for the New York one.

“For instance, respondents suffering very high levels of fear of flying were willing to pay $558 more to fly EL AL rather than Delta to New York,” she said.

While it is recognized that those suffering from FOF may use alcohol and sedatives or engage in special workshops to alleviate their fears, this study confirms that fearful flyers may choose other strategies to alleviate actual risk and perceived risk.

Ninety-two percent of fatal accidents occur during take-off or landing, so a direct flight might make more sense to those with FOF. Preferring scheduled carriers over charters or low-cost carriers, however, is likely to be based on perceived risk since no official data supports the claim that scheduled carriers are safer than charters, they wrote.

The preference for home carriers “might also be related to a safer image among passengers from the same nationality but we believe that its major advantage is the better help these carriers can provide to passengers suffering from anxiety.

“Passengers with fear of flying can get more help from a crew from their own country because of better communication. The reduction in barriers such as language and social and cultural norms can be helpful in times of anxiety.”

Tchetchik and colleagues suggested that there are operational conclusions from their research. Public agencies should be publishing safety-related information in an accessible manner so that the public can make its choices based on actual scientific data rather than unsubstantiated beliefs, they said.

As for the travel industry, with the downturn because of rising fuel costs and a weak global economy, the study could help airlines segment their market into domestic and non-domestic passengers and charge accordingly, they concluded.

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