Air travel in New York area becomes more costly

A jet lifts off from a runway at A jet lifts off from a runway at LaGuardia Airport on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

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Air travel from the New York metropolitan area is getting more expensive, as airlines consolidate and fees charged to passengers multiply.

The average one-way domestic fare of those to the 25 most popular destinations out of Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports rose 3.4 percent to $214.48 in the first nine months of last year -- the latest period for which data is available -- compared to the 2012 average, according to the Boyd Group International of Evergreen, Colo., an aviation consulting company.

Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, which has had declining traffic in recent years as Southwest Airlines has de-emphasized the location, was an exception last year; the average fare there dropped 2.4 percent in the first nine months from 2012. Airport Commissioner Robert Schaefer attributed the decline to more discounts offered by Southwest and the arrival within the past year of two new low-price carriers, Allegiant Air and PenAir.

It did cost, however, an average of $1.13 more to get to Orlando, the most popular destination from the Islip Town-owned airport.

And those data don't include taxes or, significantly, fees, which differ for fliers. Michael Boyd, president of the Boyd Group, estimated that, nationally, average fees per passenger are about $30 per flight -- up 20 percent in four years. "I think we're going to continue to see fares edge upward," Boyd said, "but, more importantly, we are going to see revenue per passenger edge up at an even higher rate simply because fees are going to up."

Rising airfares have mostly negative effects on the region's economy, said John Rizzo, chief economist at the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group. "To the extent it's for business travel, the cost of doing business goes up, and that has a depressing effect," he said.

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One potential positive: healthier airlines, hiring more workers and paying them more, Rizzo said.

Metro area airfare increases have actually slowed in the last two years. The average fare at Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark rose by 27 percent from 2009 through the first nine months of last year, Boyd said, as demand for air travel rose with the end of the recession, and fuel costs and other expenses rose.

And at MacArthur, Boyd said, the average one-way fare of those to the 25 most popular destinations (direct or with connections) rose 12.7 percent from 2009 through the first nine months of 2013, to $148.79. Nationally, the average domestic one-way fare rose by 2.5 percent in the first nine months of last year from 2012, to $226.15, Boyd said.

 

Airlines keep adding feesFees are a growing part of the cost of flying. Airlines have instituted dozens of new fees for services once taken for granted by passengers, like checking bags, having an in-flight meal, changing a booking or watching a movie.

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"Fees have become a huge source of revenues for the airlines," said Bill McGee, a travel consultant for Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports magazine. He says U.S. airlines collected about $14.3 billion in fees last year alone.

And airlines also are effectively increasing fliers' costs by reducing the numbers of seats available at deep discounts, experts say.

For the higher fares and fees, McGee said, passengers are being stuffed into planes more crowded, on average, than at almost any time in the history of commercial aviation. In November, the last month for which figures are available, planes on U.S. domestic flights flew an average of 82 percent full, up from 79 percent a year earlier, said the U.S. Department of Transportation. In the 1980s and early '90s, said McGee, the figures were in the 50 percent to 60 percent range.

Projections from the Federal Aviation Administration don't offer any prospect of relief. It forecasts passenger traffic growth at an average annual rate of 2.9 percent through 2033, with domestic capacity growing at 2.1 percent a year.