January 28, 2014

Airfares jumped again at end of 2013

The cost of air travel is rising.

The cost of air travel is rising.

Air travelers nationwide paid an average of $390 for a domestic ticket in the third quarter of 2013, up 5.1 percent from $371 the same time a year ago, when adjusted for inflation, according to a report by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

It was the highest fare for any third quarter since 1996, the report said.

Without adjusting for inflation, fares rose 6.3 percent from $367 to $390.

The average fare in Wichita totaled $399.01 for the third quarter of 2013, up 4 percent from $383.67 for the same time a year ago, it said.

Still, it’s a drop of 29 percent from 2000, when the average fare totaled $568.31 in Wichita, according to the report.

“With all the changes in the industry, fares are lower than they were 14 years ago,” Valerie Wise, Wichita Airport Authority air service and business development manager. “How many things can you say have gone down in price.”

Wichita’s average fares are lower than fares in Tulsa, which had an average fare of $447.92, and Oklahoma City, at $422.57. Wichita’s prices are roughly $25 higher than Kansas City at $374.49.

Changes in the airline industry over the past few years have pushed prices higher.

“Fares have gone up because of the (airline) consolidation and the reduction in capacity at airports nationwide,” Wise said. “That was done to enable the airlines to charge a high enough fare to cover their increased fuel costs and other costs.”

With fewer seats in the market, airlines can charge higher fares, she said.

The airlines have also introduced ancillary fees, such as charges for baggage to cover higher costs. Those charges, not included in the fare study, have allowed airlines to add more to their bottom line.

When fuel prices were cheaper, airlines flooded the market with seats.

“It wasn’t all that important to them at the time to have full flights, because they were still making money,” Wise said. Today, they have reduced the number of seats in the market to focus on operating profitability instead of market share.

Of the nation’s top 100 airports, Huntsville, Ala., had the highest average fare for the third quarter of 2013 at $559, while Atlantic City had the lowest at $157, the study said.

Atlanta, Ga., experienced the biggest increase in fares at 22.6 percent in the past year, while fares decreased the most in Bellingham, Wash., with a 16.4 percent decline.

Fares include the price charged by the airline and taxes and fees assessed by an outside entity at the time of purchase. They do not include baggage fees or other fees paid to the airline. They also do not include frequent-flier or zero-fare trips.

The report covers the nation’s top 100 airports, which includes Wichita.

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