The average airfare for a flight from the Dayton International Airport is among the five most expensive of the largest 100 U.S. airports, federal data shows.
Dayton’s average airfare was as low as $349 during the second quarter of 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Now 10 years later it has grown to nearly $438. Meanwhile, Cincinnati’s airport about 70 miles south of Dayton has seen average fares drop from its peak $595 in 2008 to $346 in the same time frame.
That’s $92 cheaper than the average Dayton flight.
“The average fare is all based on basically competition,” said local aviation expert Jay Ratliff. “As low-cost carriers leave, the average airfare increases and that’s a proven formula across the country. Dayton has lost a lot of low-cost carriers, so their average fare had to go up.”
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The average fare in Columbus was also about $74 cheaper than in Dayton, according to the recently released second quarter data.
“If they do not have any increase of any service, if things stay as they are, they’re going to be at or close to number five, or worse, as we move forward,” Ratliff said. “The formula has to change and that formula is how many low-cost carriers to do you have?”
But it’s hard to convince airlines to switch up their service and take a chance on small- and medium-hub airports like Dayton, said Gil Turner, interim director of the Dayton International Airport. When he first started in the industry nearly two decades ago, he said the airport had about a dozen airlines. Now it has four airlines.
Most of those airlines are still there, but as the larger ones bought the smaller companies and consolidated, they took on the name of bigger brands, limiting competition, Turner said.
“They also have less capacity than say they did five, 10 years ago, so they’re also being very strategic in where they place those which makes it very difficult for a small market like Dayton and other cities like Dayton,” said Linda Hughes, air service manager at the airport.
The airport has long struggled with higher ticket prices than other Ohio airports as low-cost carriers choose other markets for service.
Frontier discontinued flights at the airport in May 2013. Southwest Airlines left in 2017 and Allegiant recently switched its Dayton to Florida service onto a seasonal schedule. Allegiant's limited flights are the only low-cost service in Dayton.
Even if a market is profitable, airlines may take their aircraft and pilot to another market that would be even more profitable, Ratliff said.
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Dayton airport leadership has continued to market the airport, including new terminal renovations that will be complete at the end of the month, for additional service.
“We tell them that they can fill a flight out of Dayton,” Turner said. “The problem is trying to convince them of that. A lot of things that have been hampering them is the shortage of aircraft, the shortage of pilots and of course I think a lot of the airlines are concerned…about when is the recession going to hit?”
With the declining airfares, the number of passengers using the Dayton airport has dropped about 38 percent since 2008 when 1.47 million people boarded planes there, according to airport data examined by the Dayton Daily News. Last year, only 906,000 people got on a plane at the airport.
So far this year, enplanements are down another nearly 2 percent, according to the data.
In 2018, Dayton dropped to the 97th largest U.S. airport according to enplanements, dropping from its rank of 76 in 2008. Several of the airports hovering on either side of the coveted largest 100 airports list have grown in recent months while Dayton’s enplanements continued to drop.
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Ranked 105th, the Fayettville, Arkansas, airport has surpassed Dayton’s enplanements by more than 9,000 through August of this year. By July, 102nd ranked Punta Gorda had boarded 547,040 passengers, about 27,000 fewer than Dayton at that point.
“We just want people to think Dayton first. I think people now are automatically like ‘oh there’s no low fares in Dayton.’ But I think if you start looking at the website, the airlines we have here, you can find some pretty good deals,” Turner said.
Dayton is known as a business airport, with the convenience of being able to park and be in the terminal within 10 minutes and then through security in 10 more minutes, Turner said. Travelers have to consider what their time is worth, he said.
“Value is more than just the price of the ticket,” said Chris Kershner, executive vice president of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce. “A Dayton area traveler could drive over an hour to another airport, park over a mile away, stand in security lines forever, and ride a tram and moving sidewalks to their gate. But all of that adds up to increased travel time and lost productivity.”
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