When flying, all's fare; Bangor airport struggles to compete in regional ticket-pricing game

When snowbirds Everett and Carol Murch of Searsport are visited by Floridian friends in the summertime, the couple asks them to do one thing in return for the hospitality - fly into Bangor. Bangor is conveniently located within an hour's drive...


When snowbirds Everett and Carol Murch of Searsport are visited by Floridian friends in the summertime, the couple asks them to do one thing in return for the hospitality - fly into Bangor.

Bangor is conveniently located within an hour's drive of their Searsport home. If a guest's arrival flight is delayed or canceled, the Murches, who drive to collect their friends, don't have to rent a hotel while waiting for their visitors.

If the departure flight goes awry, then the guests skirt the hotel bill and stay at the Murch home until they find a flight, Carol Murch, 69, said, while waiting for friends to arrive at BIA this week.

When the tables are turned, however, and the Murches are the ones on the move, BIA is not the airport of choice.

"Frankly, we have used Manchester in the past just because of prices," said Carol Murch. "By the time you take a car and park it, it's still cheaper to fly out of there. And from there you get direct flights."

The Murches' travel habits illustrate the dilemma faced by BIA in an increasingly complex commercial airline industry: Make flying cheaper or the competition might make you obsolete. To date, BIA hasn't found a way to make flying consistently cheaper.

As passengers seek cheaper alternatives and go elsewhere, airlines sometimes follow.

In July, American Eagle announced it will pull out of the Bangor market on Nov. 5. American provided more than 108,000 passenger seats a year to Boston and New York City.

Fares down nationally

Sharpening the price contrast between BIA and other airports in the region is the fact that the average domestic round-trip ticket fare is down 0.6 percent from the 2006 first-quarter price of $382 to $379.80 in the first quarter of 2007, according to the government's Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The Portland International Jetport and Manchester-Boston Regional Airport are included in the bureau's reports, which focus on airports experiencing either sharp price decreases or increases. Bangor is not mentioned in either category.

Manchester is included in the BTS report because it experienced the largest price index decrease of all the nation's airports from the first quarter in 1995, compared with the same three months in 2007. Prices dropped by 9 percent.

Portland ranked second nationally for the average domestic fare decrease from first quarter 2006 to first quarter 2007. The average fare came in at $419.10 in 2006 but dropped to $367.90 this year, a 12.2 percent decrease.

When asked about Bangor's fares, BIA Director Rebecca Hupp responded, "The perception is certainly that the prices are higher, and I suspect the perception is correct. I, personally, haven't noticed a difference when I purchased for myself, either for business or leisure."

Airline ticket prices change by the minute, said Hupp. Airlines constantly reassess prices in order to maximize the profit of every seat sold, she said.

"There is increasingly no rhyme or reason to the prices being charged by airlines at any given time," said J. Brian O'Neill, deputy director of the Manchester airport. "It is frustrating to see the huge fluctuations in airfares regardless of destinations."

The prices quoted by Bangor Travel Services for this article were in essence a snapshot taken on the morning of Aug. 30, but the industry is constantly in flux. Other Web sites, travel agencies and even Bangor Travel would probably quote different prices today.

"People overall are looking at price, price, price," said Greg Hughes, marketing manager at the Portland jetport. "A $20 [ticket price] difference with a family of four is another meal, and price-conscious people are going to make that choice."

BIA lacks low-cost carrier

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