Dayton International Airport has an average ticket price of $404, nearly $58 more than the national average at $346.
Part of that is because Dayton only has one low-cost carrier —Allegiant —and it offers only 60-70 seats per day. And the airline doesn’t offer flights every day, said Terry Slaybaugh, director of aviation for the City of Dayton and the Dayton International Airport.
“Our fares are primarily business fares, which means we have a lot of fares that are sold, that are bought, at the last minute, and that drives up our fare costs, which is OK. That’s just the reality of what it is,” Slaybaugh said. “It’s really a factor of the fact that they can make money on those routes.”
Only 2 percent of Dayton Airport’s flights are considered low-capacity, much lower than the up to 35 percent seen in Cincinnati.
The forecast wasn’t always so great for the Cincinnati airport located in Hebron, Kentucky, which used to lose its customers to other airports in the area, including Dayton.
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“CVG for years was the most expensive airport in the country. Reason was that we were one of two that didn’t have low-cost carriers,” Kershner said.
Cincinnati used to be the place low-cost carriers went to die, said Jay Ratliff, a local aviation expert. So when Frontier started offering one flight a day, “there was a gasp across the country.”
“When they started having success in a place where no one had success, that brought Allegiant,” Ratliff said.
Since then, the airport has grown low-cost capacity to between 30 and 35 percent of the total available seats, up from 0 percent before Frontier’s arrival, Bobby Spann, vice president of external affairs at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport, said. When adjusted for inflation, a ticket in the beginning of 2013 would have averaged $557, or $200 more than it is now.
But the tables have turned, and now Dayton-area fliers are traveling to Cincinnati for cheaper flights, Ratliff said.
Even though Southwest Airlines pulled services from Dayton’s airport in June 2017, Slaybaugh said that didn’t increase fares because Southwest isn’t nearly as cheap as some of the other low-cost carriers.
Dayton isn’t alone in its lack of low-cost flight providers. Other small-hub airports have struggled recently to keep prices low as airlines consolidate and move hubs to larger airports.
The four major carriers, American, Delta, United and Southwest control 81 percent of domestic capacity. Only large hub airports have seen an increase in capacity from these carriers in the last 10 years, where small hub airports like Dayton have seen just as large of a decrease, Slaybaugh said.
“Southwest, Jet Blue, Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit are the five low-cost carriers, and their growth more recently has been in medium- and large-hub airports,” said Spann.
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Large hubs have seen a 28 percent increase in low-cost carrier capacity since 2008, while small hubs like Dayton have seen only a 2.6 percent increase, Slaybaugh said.
“That really affects their ability to drive a lot of lower fares. I’m not surprised its over $400. It’s really unfortunate,” Ratliff said. “It’s one of the reasons that every airport is working as hard as they can to try to attract low-cost carriers.”
While low-cost carrier capacities are growing, especially at CVG, which Ratliff said is the fastest growing airport in the country, so are legacy carriers. These legacy airlines growing does raise the overall average fare, just as the low-cost providers decrease it.
“The rate that we’ve seen the last four years can’t continue forever, but we’re going to try to keep it going as long as we can,” Spann said. “We don’t expect it to slow down significantly in the near future.”
In the current industry, just adding one new destination a year thrills airports like Dayton, Ratliff said.
Dayton started a route to Houston at the beginning of June through United Airlines, another indicator that the makeup of Dayton’s market is mainly business travel, Slaybaugh said.
But Cincinnati’s capacity is growing much more quickly, with more than 10 new routes this year and plans for two more by the end of it.
“The strategy is to diversify your airlines so you allow passengers to have that option,” Kershner said. “That diversification helps you to have different price points. Because the low-cost carriers are coming in strong with increased capacity, fares at CVG have drastically decreased.”
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By the numbers
$404: average fare at Dayton Airport
$362: average ticket cost at Columbus Airport
$328: average fare at Cincinnati/Norhtern Kentucky Airport
2: percent capacity offered by low-cost carriers in Dayton
30-35: percent capacity offered by low-cost carriers in Cincinnati