Lower Charlotte Fares Look Unlikely From New US Airways For Now

Hoping the new US Airways will bring lower fares to Charlotte?

Don't count on it anytime soon, airline executives suggested in a conference call with analysts and the media Wednesday.

On the East Coast, US Airways' unit revenue -- an industry standard that measures the revenue received for each mile an airplane seat is flown -- increased 11 percent in September compared with the same month in 2004, the company said. Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing Scott Kirby said executives "feel bullish" about improved revenue in 2006.

For travelers, though, increases in US Airways' revenue comes in the form of higher average fares.

High fares are a particular sore spot in Charlotte, which has the third-highest fares of any major city in the country, according to Transportation Department figures.

When US Airways and America West announced merger plans in the spring, some travelers had hoped the deal would bring lower fares to Charlotte. At the time, the companies said the new company would have a "consumer-friendly pricing structure of a low-fare carrier."

In the six weeks since the deal closed, though, the airline's new management seems to have made few changes to ticket prices out of Charlotte. Especially hard hit are business travelers, who still pay hefty premiums for direct flights.

On US Airways, a round-trip ticket bought Wednesday for the cheapest nonstop today from Charlotte to Chicago would have cost $797. From Phoenix to Chicago -- a longer flight still operating under the America West banner -- the company's lowest-priced nonstop was just $449.

Asked by the Observer if executives plan to change the way they price flights, Kirby said the carrier has already made some changes, such as eliminating Saturday-night-stay requirements.

"It will take time to fully go through the whole system and understand it and make all the changes we will ultimately make," he said.

He said some of the complaints about high fares from Charlotte and other hubs involve flights to smaller markets, which have less demand and are served by high-cost regional jets. On those routes, fares will tend to be higher than typical America West fares between big cities, he said.

"That's just a market reality," he said.

Tony Mecia: (704) 358-5069; tmecia@charlotteobserver.com

Frozen Fares?

A comparison of US Airways round-trip coach fares from Charlotte, the day before the merger and today:

To Philadelphia, Sept. 26: Five fares, $496 to $1,232.

To Philadelphia, Wednesday: Five fares, $516 to $1,252.

To Phoenix, Sept. 26: Seven fares, $378 to $2,408.

To Phoenix, Wednesday: Seven fares, $378 to $2,408.

To Las Vegas, Sept. 26: 10 fares, $308 to $2,014.

To Las Vegas, Wednesday: Nine fares, $258 to $2,034.

Charlotte Observer


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