Since Sept. 11, more
and more U.S. companies are taking to the road instead of the air. Government
and airline security measures put into place since have added both time and
stress to air travel, and some companies have placed restrictions on travel
by air, for both economic and security reasons.
Wheels Inc., an Illinois-based
fleet management company, conducted an informal survey of 34 Fortune 500 companies
to study their travel plans. The survey found that 14 companies had restricted
air travel and six had strongly urged the use of cars rather than planes.
"The business rule
of thumb used to be if a trip could be completed by car in five hours or less,
you drove," says Joe McDonald, Wheels' director of account management.
"We used to figure that five hours was the break-even point when you
consider the time to commute to the airport, waiting to board, flying, picking
up luggage and rental car, and driving to the destination. And that was before
security lines at airports got quite so long."
McDonald says it is generally
less expensive to drive when you follow the five-hour margin, based on an
estimated driving cost for rental cars at 32.5 cents per mile. "In some
cases, it is quite a bit more expensive to fly."
For example: a trip from
New York to Washington, DC, at $75 on the road compared to $227 in the air
and Atlanta to Charlotte at $511 by air and $80 on the road.
Of those who decided
against flying, 66 percent drove instead - with 38.5 percent of those driving
on trips of at least 250 miles. The same 66 percent chose to handle some business
by conference call and 25 percent cancelled meetings.
The trend of taking business
on the road has not equated to big bucks for car rental agencies. Agencies
say they have been similarly impacted as the airline industry.
"Since Sept. 11,
our rentals have dropped sharply," says Paula Stifter, a spokesperson
for Hertz rental agency. "Ninety percent of our business is done at airports."
She says it's difficult
to tell if companies are actually driving more. "We've noticed that rentals
are up at our suburban locations, which could include business travel. But,
it isn't clear."
Christy Conrad, a spokesperson
with Enterprise Rent-A-Car, says the surge from business travel is a little
clearer. "We've been flat since Sept. 11, but we've noticed an increase
in local rentals, which means the renter returns the vehicle to the location
rented. It does appear that businesses are renting more."
Both said their companies
are slowly recovering from the level business dropped to in mid-September.
"We have a long way to go to recover fully," says Conrad. "Air
travel is very important to our business."