Airfare prices are cheap but regional airports rank among highest

Airfare in the United States is the cheapest it has been since 2010, but the ticket prices for flights from airports in Dayton and Cincinnati still rank in the top 20 most expensive in the country.

Low-cost airline carriers are causing competition at airports, driving airfares down in the first quarter of 2016 to the cheapest they’ve been in six years, according to federal data.

Dayton International Airport saw a drop in prices in the first quarter of 2016 — averaging about $427, compared to $431 in the first quarter of 2015 — but airfare from Dayton flights remain among the highest in the nation.

Dayton’s average airfare price has increased $113 since 2010. It is the second most expensive Ohio airport in terms of average airfare, right behind Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. Cincinnati’s airport had an average fare of $430 in the first quarter of 2016, down from $468 during the same time in 2015.

Cincinnati’s airport is the 16th most expensive of the top 100 airports in the nation, with Dayton just behind it.

Airfare prices at the Dayton airport have consistently been above average nationwide in recent years. In 2014, the Dayton airport had the largest average airfare increase among the top 100 airports in the U.S.

The local airport saw its average fare rise to $431 the last quarter of 2014, a 16 percent increase from 2013 during the same time period, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Aviation expert Jay Ratliff said the explanation for lower airfare is simple. Low-cost carriers like Allegiant Air and JetBlue Airways offer cheap seat tickets for travelers, forcing major carriers to lower prices to compete.

“These larger airlines are being forced to compete, and as consumers we love it,” Ratliff said. “If Dayton could see an influx in additional low-cost carrier service, then the fares would come from.”

Allegiant Air began flying out of Dayton on April 14 with two daily flights to Florida airports. In the first month, 1,472 passengers flew out of the city with the discount airline, according to airport officials. In June, that number doubled when more than 2,500 passengers flew with the airline from Dayton.

Terrence Slaybaugh, aviation director for Dayton International Airport, said he expects Allegiant’s presence to impact the airport’s average ticket prices and that it has been “very successful” so far. Slaybaugh hopes to see the airline add more seats and expand in different markets. Airport officials are talking to other discount airline carriers, but no commitments have been made yet.

Ratliff said the Dayton airport was once a bustling hub for travel back in the ’80s, but is now “a shadow of what it once was.” He said it’s an underutilized location.

When airlines merged and consolidated in the past several years, the airport lost out on crucial markets like Atlanta and some in Flordia. Now they’re working to gain traction in those markets again, but the airport hasn’t “fully recovered” from the blow, Slaybaugh said.

“That’s my job everyday, trying to get more seats and make us more competitive,” he said.

Across the country, the average price of a domestic ticket dropped to $361 in the first quarter, down 7.8 percent from the same period in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The fare data are adjusted for inflation and don’t include fees for optional services, such as baggage fees. Ratliff said in addition to increased competition, cheaper oil prices have contributed to inexpensive flying. But he thinks the prices could stay around for a while.

“To be able to jump on a plane and fly from Dayton or Cincinnati to Florida for $80 round-trip, or whatever it may be — that’s just an incredible, incredible opportunity for people,” he said. “And more people are taking advantage of it.”

Average air fares at the nation's 100 busiest airports, through the first three months of each year

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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