Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport’s ticket prices have climbed at a higher rate since 2005 than any other of the country’s 100 busiest airports, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation and OAG Aviation Worldwide statistics.
Since the first quarter of that year, average airfare has jumped more than 35 percent, from $363.08 to $493.18 per ticket.
That price ties the airport with Washington Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., for the third-highest average ticket price in the country, the statistics indicate.
“It stinks, but we’ve known this,” said Lori Lynah, Savannah airport director of marketing and air service development. “I don’t mean to pooh-pooh it, because it’s terrible, but our airfare rates have been at that level for quite some time.”
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Lynah and airport director Greg Kelly blamed flight cutbacks during that period for the increased rates. Since 2005, carriers such as Delta Air Lines have reduced flights, while low-cost airline AirTran Air Ways pulled out in 2008.
“Our passengers have been victims of reduced capacity and the resulting higher airfares,” Kelly said in a statement.
The past few months, however, have been a different story, Kelly said.
In September, the airport inked a deal with low-cost carrier JetBlue to add daily flights to Boston’s Logan International Airport and twice-daily flights to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City beginning in February.
The deal has had a snowball effect.
This month, Delta added five more weekly flights to Atlanta and six more weekly flights to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport.
United Airlines is projected to add five weekly flights to Newark, as well as one flight a week to both Washington Dulles and Houston. US Airways will add more than 600 seats weekly to Charlotte and one weekly flight each to Washington’s Reagan National Airport and Philadelphia International Airport, Lynah said.
In total, projections for March include 50 more flights and 5,000 more seats than a year ago, according to statistics provided by the airport.
“Adding a low-cost carrier like JetBlue stimulates traffic — period,” Lynah said. “We’ve seen it across the board. These airlines that didn’t add before don’t want to be left out of the game.”
At the same time, Lynah said, the airport has a tough battle to reduce its ticket prices.
Since 2008, the airport has offered 40 percent fewer seats on planes, while ticket prices have increased 30 percent, airport statistics show.
The relationship correlates to simple supply and demand: Less competition among carriers means higher airfares.
Nationally, smaller outlets like Savannah-Hilton Head have struggled as carriers limit service at smaller airports to focus on major hubs, according to a study published this past May by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
From 2007 to 2012, the country’s smaller airports lost 21.3 percent of their scheduled domestic flights, while the 29 largest airports lost just 8.8 percent, the study said.
The declines were attributed to higher fuel prices, industry consolidation and a preference for profitability over market share.
Treated as a small-hub airport in the study, Savannah-Hilton Head still had a much greater average airfare increase since 2005 than did its regional rivals, small-hub Charleston International Airport and medium-hub Jacksonville International Airport.
Charleston’s airport saw a 1 percent decrease in that time, and its average ticket price stands at $417.57.
Jacksonville’s hub jumped 8 percent and now has an average ticket price of $370.22.
Lynah said that when attempting to woo airlines away from regional competitors, there is “nothing you can do except tout conveniences. You can talk about how it’s an easy airport to get out of. You can mention the connections with Hilton Head that gives us an advantage. You can mention quality service.
“That’s all you can really do.”