Sunday, August 7, 2016

Charleston’s airfares plummet 17.2% in 5 years

Helped by increased competition and lately lower fuel costs, airfares at Charleston International Airport and across the nation continue to fall.

The average cost to fly out of South Carolina’s busiest airport dropped to slightly more than $381 during the first quarter of 2016, according to the latest available statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That’s down 4 percent, or about $16 from the same quarter in 2015, and 17.2 percent, or about $79, from the first quarter of 2011, when the average fare stood at almost $460.

That was two years after the former AirTran Airways pulled out of the Charleston market, causing fares to shoot up significantly. That was also shortly before Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, which absorbed AirTran, entered the market in 2011 and two years before low-cost carrier JetBlue Airways touched down in Charleston, both resulting in overall lower airfares.

“The more flights we get and the more destinations we get, the more competitive the airlines have to be,” said Paul Campbell, executive director and CEO of Charleston County Aviation Authority, which oversees Charleston’s airport.

Some airlines serving Charleston not only added more destinations last year, they also upgraded to larger jets. Other carriers began offering service out of Charleston.

Both JetBlue and Southwest added flights and destinations from Charleston recently. Alaska Airlines launched nonstop service to Seattle in November.

Sophia Rodriguez, a professor at the College of Charleston, flew to Los Angeles last week and believes airfares out of Charleston aren’t sky high.

“They are pretty reasonable, especially for a small airport,” the West Ashley resident said.

Anna Stockman of James Island believes fares are a little on the expensive side.

Flying to Baton Rouge, La., to return to college, the rising junior surmised her $400 fare might just reflect her eventual destination, which usually requires a connecting flight through Atlanta or Charlotte.

Kimberly Murray of Goose Creek hasn’t really noticed a difference over the past few years in her airfare.

“It’s usually about the same,” the Berkeley County School District counselor said as she awaited a flight to Dallas. She normally pays about $350 for a ticket.

The average domestic airfare in the U.S. also declined to $361 during the first quarter of 2016, down 7.8 percent from $392 during the first quarter of 2015, the lowest level since 2010, adjusted for inflation, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The price is based on 67 percent of round-trip fares and 33 percent one-way ticket costs from a 10 percent sampling of prices paid at the point of purchase. It does not include optional services such as baggage fees.

Airfares in Charleston, the 75th largest airport in the U.S. based on the number of passengers on domestic flights, are lower than any neighboring airport except Myrtle Beach. Flights from the Grand Strand averaged $333 during the first quarter of this year.

Fares out of Columbia averaged $433 during the first quarter, from Savannah $449, from Greenville-Spartanburg $434 and from Charlotte $450.

Charleston International shepherded 3.4 million passengers arriving and departing through its expanded terminal in 2015, up 300,000 over the previous year. The number of ticket holders is expected to reach 3.8 million this year, based on projections by Charleston County Aviation Authority.

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