By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnatians are now No. 1, or at least tied, for paying the most for air travel.
Those flying out of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport paid a 56 percent "premium" in the final quarter of 2002, or about 56 percent more than the national average based upon flight length, market size and other comparable data, according to a newly released Transportation Department report.
That rate ties with White Plains, N.Y., which has long held the top spot on the report. Cincinnati has always ranked second or third because it is the second-largest hub for Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which controls more than 90 percent of the flights locally along with its Erlanger subsidiary Comair.
The Transportation Department ranks air fares out of individual cities based on "premiums," or how much more passengers pay to fly out of that city than the national average based on market size, flight length and other variables. The national average was $167.
Highest air fare premiums
Cincinnati (tie): 56 percent ($225 average fare)
White Plains, N.Y. (tie): 56 percent ($242 average fare)
Charlotte, N.C.: 36 percent ($212 average fare)
Minneapolis/St. Paul: 31 percent ($208 average fare)
Lowest air fare premiums
Tampa/St. Petersburg: - 32 percent ($116 average fare)
Atlantic City, N.J.: - 29 percent ($120 average fare)
Myrtle Beach, S.C.: - 28 percent ($116 average fare)
Gulfport/Biloxi, Miss.: - 24 percent ($123 average fare)
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation
On average, Cincinnati travelers paid $225 a trip during that quarter, the report said. White Plains travelers paid $242 on average, but their flights generally are longer.
Other data released this week by airline industry newsletter Aviation Daily showed that the average fare at the airport was about $180 between April 2002 and March 2003 - a figure that is down from $203 for the same period ending in March 1999.
"I won't fly out of here, ever, and I always go to Louisville," said Ann Krogmeier, a saleswoman from Fort Wright, who flies on leisure about six times a year. "In fact, my daughter is getting married next month, and a bunch of our relatives are flying in. They are now just starting to call to say, 'Are you kidding me?' They are also going to fly into Louisville and rent cars."
Delta spokesman John Kennedy said market forces set the local prices.
"Fares are determined like all other prices - supply and demand and competition," Kennedy said. "We also always point out that we offer many destinations and direct flights that you don't get elsewhere."
A comparison with prices to other cities shows that Delta fares out of Cincinnati generally are higher than those from surrounding airports.
A leisure coach fare to San Francisco, for example, costs $505 from here, while it costs $289 out of Lexington. The Lexington flight includes two stops: in Cincinnati, oddly enough, and Salt Lake City.
Many surrounding cities, including Columbus, Louisville and Dayton, offer low-fare competition such as Southwest and AirTran.
"We work all the time to get a low-cost carrier in here, but we've had 10 in here in the last 13 years," airport spokesman Ted Bushelman said. "And when they do come in, Delta lowers its fares, and people do not fly the low-costs and fly Delta instead. So it is hard for us to really work hard on getting low-cost carriers, but we never stop."
Todd Friedman, a marketing director from Montgomery who flies 30 weeks a year on business, has given up on trying to get a low fare out of Cincinnati. He chooses Dayton instead.
And he says he is not alone.
"There was a flight in the last two months where we all were from this area, laughing about the 12-minute flight back to Cincinnati to connect to where we really want to go," Friedman said. "But we all do it because we all save between $600 and $700.
"I've even tried writing to Delta and got nowhere with that. Their letter said that they are not trying to take advantage of us, but it's hard to believe that."
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