The average U.S. airfare is the cheapest it has been in decades, but locally, ticket prices for flights leaving Dayton’s airport remain among the highest in the country.
The average airfare for domestic flights during the third quarter of 2018 was $343.28, the lowest it has been since the Bureau of Transportation Statistics started tracking prices in 1995. But in Dayton, the average ticket is far from its lowest at $420.53 — $77 more than the national average and nearly $80 more than the airport’s low in 2009.
A Dayton Daily News analysis found that the Dayton airport has the eighth highest airfare of the largest 100 airports in the country and the highest in Ohio, a sign of its recent struggles after several low-cost carriers left the city.
Southwest Airlines was the most recent to pull service in June of 2017, which contributed about 25 percent of the airport’s capacity, Dayton’s aviation director Terry Slaybaugh has previously told the Dayton Daily News.
Some area travelers, including Joe Sharkey of Vandalia, said he’d prefer to fly through Dayton, but the prices are too high so he travels to the Columbus Airport, which has the second lowest average ticket prices in the region behind Cincinnati.
The average ticket price at CVG in Northern Kentucky was $310 during the same time period.
The low airfares in Cincinnati and Columbus are driven by increased competition by new low-cost carriers Frontier and Spirit entering the market over the last few years.
The lower prices brought a record 8 million passengers through Columbus’s airport in 2018, said Columbus Airport spokeswoman Angie Tabor.
Those markets with more competition, especially with low-cost carriers, will almost always have cheaper flights, said local aviation expert Jay Ratliff. Nationwide, the airfare is down because of those low-cost carriers expanding capacity and entering new markets.
Cincinnati’s major boom began when low-cost carriers learned from Frontier’s example that they could have success in the Cincinnati market. As prices began edging downward, more and more Dayton-area residents began driving to Cincinnati over the Dayton airport.
Travelers can find cheap fares in Dayton, too, Ratliff said. But it requires booking early, eight to eleven months in advance.
Some area travelers have found luck finding cheap fares, both domestic and international at the Dayton airport. Zack Beck, a 28-year-old Clayton resident that grew up in Huber Heights, said he and his wife found round-trip tickets to Rome for $600 per person in October. He has also traveled a lot for various jobs.
Even when it’s not the cheapest, the convenience is worth the extra cost, Beck said.
“Having been through almost all of the major airports in the country, I think the Dayton airport is by far the easiest to get in and out of,” he said. “I can park, get through security, and to my gate usually in under 30 minutes. Some airports can take you 30 minutes just to get to security.”
But Beck said he would prefer more nonstop routes from Dayton, something Slaybaugh has said he’s working on bringing, along with more low-cost capacity.
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Slaybaugh and other Dayton airport officials could not be reached for comment, but Ratliff said there’s always hope for the Dayton airport to rebound if the community embraces new flights airlines test in the market.
“It’s just a matter of where the airlines can go to make the most money. If my airplane is 100 percent full and I’m making so much profit out of Cincinnati, that’s good. But if I can charge slightly higher fares in the Dayton market or a Columbus market and that aircraft is full, well my yield is higher,” Ratliff said.
Even though fares may be cheaper, Ratliff said travelers aren’t getting as much as the used to for the price. What used to be standard, like a checked bag or choosing a seat, now comes at extra costs as airports continue struggling to keep up with rising fuel costs.
“When you factor inflation, still it is cheaper to fly today than it was to fly 20 years ago. There is zero question about that,” he said. “But it’s a surprise when we have to pay more than what we thought.”
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