Flights From Boston Airport Get More Expensive

Jan. 26--Prices for flights out of Logan International Airport rose more than 10.3 percent last fall compared to a year ago, substantially more than the increases nationally and at two other New England airports, government data showed yesterday.

At the same time, fares dipped slightly between the second and third quarters of last year at Logan and at T.F. Green State Airport in Warwick, R.I. and Manchester airport in New Hampshire, even as they rose nationally.

The contrast between the quarter-to-quarter and year-over-year figures, industry analysts said, suggests Logan and New England travelers are reaping continued benefits from low-fare carriers that have pushed into the region -- but those discounters haven't escaped industrywide pressures to hold the line on fare cuts or raise prices in the face of soaring jet fuel prices after Hurricane Katrina.

"What we have seen over the course of the last year is that with [passenger] load factors very high and fuel prices very high, low-cost carriers have become a little less aggressive in cutting prices, and you're seeing more price increases stick," said aviation analyst Daniel Kasper, managing director of LECG LLC, a Cambridge firm.

Logan's 10.3 percent increase in average ticket price between the July-September quarter of 2004 and the same period a year later compared to a 6.4 percent nationwide increase. T.F. Green was up 4.5 percent from the prior year, and Manchester airport 2.3 percent.

During the July-September quarter, ticket prices at Logan dipped 0.3 percent, compared with the April-June quarter. They fell 1.5 percent at Manchester and 2.2 percent at T.F. Green. In contrast, the index for the same period rose 0.9 percent nationally, to its highest level since early 2001.

Not accounting for inflation, Logan travelers are paying virtually the same average price per ticket as they were 11 years ago, even as nationwide prices have risen 9.2 percent, the index shows. The data come from the latest Air Travel Price Index, published by the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Industry officials credited the long-term price declines in Boston to discount carriers such as JetBlue Airways Corp., AirTran Airways and Delta Air Lines' Song unit, who started or substantially expanded operations in the last two years.

Danny Levy, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Port Authority, which runs Logan, said low-fare carriers are benefiting many of Logan's 27 million annual passengers not just by offering cheaper seats , but by putting pressure on so-called legacy carriers such as American Airlines, Delta, and US Airways to cut prices.

"It definitely helps keep the legacies in check," Levy said.

Prices have dropped far more steeply at T.F. Green and Manchester than at Logan since Southwest Airlines began serving those cities in 1996 and 1998, respectively.

Patti Goldstein, a spokeswoman for T.F. Green, which is just outside Providence, said fare levels have also benefited from daily service provided by Spirit Airlines to Ft. Lauderdale and Ft. Myers in Florida and Independence Air service to Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. Independence, which challenged United Airlines' United Express on the Providence-Dulles route, filed for bankruptcy protection in November and shut down earlier this month.

The Transportation Department index does not precisely correlate to average fares, because if a given airport begins providing more long-haul service that costs more than shorter trips, that can have the effect of making the price index rise, even if average fares are dropping.

But industry analysts say the index is a useful tool, particularly for short-term comparisons, because it is based on the actual prices paid, rather than published fares.

Industry officials say it's hard to predict what the next report, which covers October-December, will show.

High fuel costs remain, and airlines continue to try to raise fares. At the same time, new JetBlue service out of Boston to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport with introductory $25 fares could bring down Logan prices.