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Airport fares at Cincinnati highest in U.S.




CINCINNATI

At $500-plus per round trip, recent average airfares at the Cincinnati/ Northern Kentucky International Airport were the highest in the nation among the top 100 airports, according to the latest government statistics.

While the average domestic airfare in the first three months of 2007 was $380 – down 0.6 percent from the same quarter in 2006 – the average fare at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport was $531, according to a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Fares at the Hebron, Ky.- based airport across the Ohio River from Cincinnati rose 14.7 percent from $464 in the same period a year ago – the highest increase in ticket prices among the top 100 airports, the bureau said.

Average fares are based on domestic itinerary fares, roundtrip or one-way for which no return is purchased, the bureau said.

The next-highest average fare for the first three months of the year was $526 in Anchorage, Alaska. Rounding out the top five were average fares of $489 in Honolulu, $479 at New York’s JFK airport and $479 in San Francisco.

More than 80 percent of the flights from the Cincinnati/ Northern Kentucky airport are provided by Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines and its Erlanger, Ky.- based Comair subsidiary.

“Airfares have been impacted by high fuel costs, and there’s a premium associated with the breadth of services out of Cincinnati as Delta’s second largest hub,” said Delta spokeswoman Betsy Talton.

She said Delta also has made changes at the airport since 2005 to be sure it has the right size aircraft for the market.

“And that’s good news for Cincinnati because the hub continues to be successful,” she said.

Airport spokesman Ted Bushelman added that planes are leaving the airport full because there is direct service available to more than 120 cities.

“Unfortunately for locals at Cincinnati this is the price for having such great service,” said Doug Abbey, a partner in The Velocity Group aviation consulting firm.

He said it would be a different situation if Cincinnati was merely a spoke and not a hub in Delta’s national network.

“Then the airport would be served by a dozen different airlines all scrambling for market share versus the 80 or 90 percent you have with Delta,” Abbey said.

Mike Boyd, an aviation analyst with The Boyd Group, said the benefits of having a hub outweigh the costs.

“If you didn’t have a hub in Cincinnati, you’d probably still be spending a lot of money to get to various places,” said Boyd. “The only difference is you wouldn’t have the economic benefit that Delta’s hub gives you.”

David Stempler, president of the Potomac, Md.-based Air Travelers Association, agreed.

“Although the fares are kind of high, people in Cincinnati are getting excellent nonstop service all around the nation and don’t have to make connections in other cities to do that,” said Stempler.

There have been complaints through the years about high fares at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport, and officials with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber say it doesn’t help that there are about five airports within a two-hour drive of Cincinnati.

“Even though the amount of traffic going through the Cincinnati/ Northern Kentucky airport is quite large, the amount generated by the local passenger here is quite small comparatively speaking,” said Steve Stevens, president of the northern Kentucky organization.

Stevens said having an airport that reaches so many destinations is a big boost economically.

“But it’s obviously bittersweet at times when you have to look at airfares that are as high as they are,” he said.

Doug Moormann, the Cincinnati chamber’s vice president of government affairs, said his group also recognizes the premium associated with the high level of service provided to business and leisure travelers by the hub.

“But while we strive for lots of top rankings in national polls, this is certainly not one where we would be disappointed not to be ranked so high,” he said.


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