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This is a glimpse of what over-consolidation could mean for flyers., but airlines may pay the price in the long run as Amtrak and buses fill in the gaps for budget business travelers.
It didn’t take but a New York minute for some competitors to jack up fares to the Big Apple from Pittsburgh in the wake of the decision by JetBlue Airways to abandon the route in February.
A round-trip fare that now goes for as low as $116 will start to climb by March 11, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette found Monday. That’s less than two weeks after JetBlue’s last nonstop flight to New York City on Feb. 27.
For example, American Airlines will charge $210 for its one nonstop flight to John F. Kennedy International Airport on March 11, returning to Pittsburgh the next day. American fares generally will stay at that level or go higher through March and into April, although on certain days they will be lower.
But that’s peanuts compared to what it will cost to fly to New York on either Delta or US Airways. Delta is charging $619.60 for a trip to and from JFK or LaGuardia Airport on March 11, returning the next day, while US Airways is asking $620 for a flight into and out of LaGuardia. Prices for both airlines generally stay at that level through March and into April, with a few exceptions.
Michael Boyd, a Colorado-based aviation consultant, said he’s not surprised by the markups. He noted that the same thing happened when Southwest Airlines dropped nonstop service to Philadelphia earlier this year, leaving US Airways as the sole carrier on the route. Round trip fares shot up from $118 to $698.
“When you lose competition, you’re going to lose some pricing discipline. But if airlines can make money on [the higher fare], that’s what they’re going to charge. They’re not in the charity business. They’re not competing with Mother Teresa,” he said.
That’s not to say Mr. Boyd viewed a $620 fare to the Big Apple and back as reasonable.
“I do think it’s out of whack. I don’t want to fly it. The reality is that if that’s what the airlines can get, they’re going to get it,” he said. “If you can get $600, why would you charge $300 just to be nice?”
The airlines didn’t say much about the increases.
US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher said in a statement that the carrier doesn’t discuss pricing strategy.
“However, having an airline serve a route that is priced competitively, while still covering costs, is in everyone’s best interest for continued, healthy and sustainable air service and necessary to maintain a robust, healthy airline industry that historically has lost more money than it has made,” he added.
Anthony Black, a Delta spokesman, said “any adjustment in price would be a reflection of market demand,” while American spokesman Matt Miller said the carrier doesn’t discuss pricing.
JetBlue has been credited with driving down fares to New York by 20 percent since entering the market in 2006 with four flights a day to JFK. It later cut the number of daily flights to two.
In confirming last week that the airline was discontinuing the service, JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin said the carrier wasn’t able to make money on the route, despite trying a number of tactics to boost service.
JoAnn Jenny, a spokeswoman for Pittsburgh International Airport, had said that she did not think JetBlue’s decision would lead to a dramatic jump in fares because of the competition on the route.
She said Monday that a number of factors go into ticket pricing and that she didn’t know enough about the March fares being offered to comment.
While fares between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have dropped some over the last year, they’re still not close to $118.
Mark Belko: email@example.com or 412-263-1262.
(c)2012 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by MCT Information Services.