Tallahassee Regional Airport Traffic Dips, Prices Climb

Ticket prices are inching up and passengers numbers are slowly dropping, but Tallahassee Regional Airport officials said Tuesday it's too soon to determine whether the decline is due the increased cost of flying.

"Really, what is going to tell us is vacation time - July and August," said Phil Inglese, assistant airport director after passenger numbers released for June showed passenger traffic declining for the third month in a row at the airport.

June traffic at Tallahassee Regional showed 100,624 passengers used the terminal, compared with 104,572 for the same period last year.

Passenger traffic in April 2005 totaled 98,851 compared to 101,521 for the same period in 2004. In May 2005, 97,028 passengers used the airport compared to 99,720 in May 2004.

Inglese said despite the decline, June passenger traffic was the "second-busiest" for the month in the airport's history.

Inglese said no firm projections can be made about passenger numbers this year or how ticket prices will affect travel plans until the vacation months of July and August are recorded.

June, July and August typically are the busiest months at the airport, records show.

Ticket prices have increased steadily since the spring of 2004, when oil prices began climbing. A U.S. Department of Energy study shows the price of jet fuel in the Gulf area increased from about $1.14 a gallon in July 2004 to $1.65 a gallon in June 2005.

Ticket prices have likewise increase. A round-trip ticket to Atlanta purchased 21 days in advance a year ago cost $130 on AirTran, compared with $253 today on Delta Air Lines. AirTran left the Tallahassee market in September 2004.

A ticket to Tampa has jumped from $108 last year to $207 this year. Tampa was served by AirTran in July 2004. Delta and Continental serve the Tampa market now.

While ticket prices are up, there is no indication yet passengers are choosing other area airports to take advantage of lower ticket prices.

Johnnie Ransom, who co-owns Alpha Travel and Tours Inc. in Tallahassee, said he has not seen "a drop-off because of the prices, but we have had people complain about it."

Ransom, whose company handles private bookings and also books flights for state employees, said he has not had anyone asked to fly out of another airport because of higher ticket prices.

Harris Strickland, the co-owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Tallahassee, said his company saw "some shift" away from Tallahassee after AirTran pulled out in September 2004, but says bookings to and from Tallahassee "have balanced since then."

Strickland says he has noticed the airlines generally are not having as many "bargain" flights as they have in the past.

Inglese said rising fuel costs may be reflected in decreasing passenger numbers in the next couple of months, but he added that "how people feel about the economy and their financial well-being" also will play roles in the number of passengers the airport sees.

"Until we get through the summer," he said, "we can't really say where we are going to be."

Tallahassee Regional recorded a record year for passengers in 2004, with 1,155,072 travelers using the airport. Total traffic this year over the first six months is about 4,700 ahead of last year, Inglese said.

There are about 70 takeoffs and landings a day by commercial passenger aircraft at the airport.