Few Rivals to JetBlue for Logan to Dulles Air Route

Despite a growing air-travel market, the route between Boston and Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia has attracted just one low-fare alternative to dominant incumbent United Airlines.

As bankrupt Independence Air prepares to shut down operations tonight, including five daily round trips between Dulles and Logan International Airport, AirTran Airways disclosed yesterday it has quietly backed away from plans to offer four daily Logan-Dulles round trips. AirTran's service was to begin next month.

JetBlue Airways Corp. remains on track to offer six daily Logan-Dulles round trips starting Jan. 17, with promotional fares as low as $50 round trip and regular fares of $110 to $280. "All systems are go," JetBlue spokeswoman Jenny Dervin said last evening.

AirTran spokeswoman Judy Graham-Weaver said that after JetBlue decided to get into the market, "It just didn't look like it would be a profitable route for us." AirTran flies nonstop from Logan to Atlanta, Baltimore, and Newport News, Va., and serves 48 US cities in all. After disclosing its Dulles plans in November, AirTran shelved those plans about three weeks ago, before ever selling any tickets.

But Graham-Weaver added: "In this business, market conditions can change quickly. Now that Independence is out of that market, we're looking at the whole Washington picture, and it certainly could change in the future." AirTran isn't yet formally reconsidering its decision not to offer the Boston-Dulles service, she said, but "we're taking a look at all the options."

United, which uses Dulles as its main East Coast hub, offers nine daily flights from Logan to Dulles, typically starting at $280 round trip.

For decades, New York's three airports represented the single biggest destination market for Logan passengers. But traffic plunged after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks depressed business travel, and the added time required for post-9/11 security procedures made car, bus, or Amtrak Acela train service a more appealing alternative to airplanes.

Depending on how the market is defined, Greater Washington now represents a bigger air market for Boston than New York. During 2004, the most recent full-year figures, 11.7 percent of all Logan travelers were headed to airports in that area compared with just 10.6 percent headed to Greater New York, according to BACK Aviation Solutions Inc., a New Haven consulting firm.

Independence, a former United Airlines affiliate that opted to become a low-fare carrier under its own brand in June 2004, sought bankruptcy protection in November. After failing to find buyers for any of its assets, Independence parent Flyi Corp. said earlier this week it would shut down tonight at 7 p.m.

Passengers still holding tickets for flights on Independence can use them to get standby seats on other airlines operating the same routes, after paying a $50 fee, under a provision of the federal airline industry bailout bill enacted after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Independence also has operated three daily round trips between Dulles and airports serving Burlington, Vt.; Manchester, N.H.; Portland, Maine; Providence; and Bradley International in Windsor Locks, Conn.

Peter J. Howe can be reached at howe@globe.com.



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