Pittsburgh International Airport fares, climbing for 3 years, trail national average

Written by Thomas Olson

Airline mergers and high fuel costs sent average air fares at Pittsburgh International Airport climbing for the past three years but fares remain lower than national averages, according to the Department of Transportation.

In addition, Cleveland’s Hopkins International Airport hardly attracts Pittsburgh-area passengers these days because its average fare of $449.90, as of April 1, exceeds Pittsburgh’s average $359.34, the latest data show.

“Cleveland’s fares are above ours, so we’re a much better value,” said JoAnn Jenny, spokeswoman for the Allegheny County Airport Authority. “We have more local travelers today than we’ve ever had, which makes us a better airport than when we were a hub for US Airways.”

Pittsburgh International’s traffic count rose by 1.3 percent to 8.3 million passengers in 2011, compared with less than 8.2 million in 2010, airport authority figures show.

Average air fares nationally were $372.75 as of March 31, the latest figure available.

“But if you’re flying more than 1,000 miles, you’re probably going to get slammed” because of jet fuel prices, said Tom Parsons, CEO of Bestfares.com in Arlington, Texas.

Parsons blamed industry consolidation for higher fares because fares rise with fewer flights. Mergers of United and Continental, Southwest and AirTran, and Delta and Northwest reduced flight capacity, he said.

“I do expect to see air fares continue to climb, on average,” said Parsons, who included Pittsburgh in that projection.

Average Pittsburgh fares increased 10.7 percent to $300.52 in 2010 from the year before. In 2011, the local average rose by 7.7 percent to $323.13, and by 11.1 percent to $359.34 this year.

Business travelers fly “less and smarter” because of higher fares, said Bruce Thompson, vice president of E-Safe Technologies Inc. in Collier, which installs teleconferencing systems.

“Instead of flying seven people from Pittsburgh to the West Coast for an internal company meeting, for instance, businesses are sending half that many and teleconferencing the rest,” Thompson said.

Even so, Pittsburgh’s most-recent average fare was about 4 percent lower than the national average. Pittsburgh International fares have remained competitive for several years, said Jenny, because after US Airways scrapped flights connecting through here, the airport drew other airlines such as discounter Southwest Airlines.

US Airways began dropping flights at Pittsburgh International in 2003 while in bankruptcy and essentially dehubbed the airport by the end of 2004. Southwest began Pittsburgh service in May 2005 and became the airport’s fourth-busiest carrier.

The shift in Pittsburgh air service showed in average fares the following year. Until 2006, Pittsburgh fares were consistently higher, usually by about $100, than national averages dating to at least 1995, Transportation Department data show. Since 2006, average Pittsburgh fares have been lower than the national average.

“Pittsburgh is no longer a fortress hub,” Parsons said. “US Airways is still there, but there’s other airlines there too, and they have to be competitive.”

Thomas Olson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached a 412-320-7854 or at tolson@tribweb.com.