Air Fare Math Doesn’t Add Up

Average domestic air fares in the United States rose 4 percent between the fourth quarter of 2006 and the fourth quarter of 2007, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The average fare was $331, up from $318 a year earlier. But it’s not up much over time. In the last quarter of 2000, it was $340.

In the last quarter of 2000, oil cost about $30 a barrel. Today it costs $117.90.

If you look at a chart of average air fares at Bradley (the Bureau of Transportation Statistics has a terrific tool to generate that data), you’ll see something interesting.


The darker line shows fares at Bradley. The lighter one tracks fares nationally. (You can click on the chart to pop up a slightly larger image.)

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that fares at Bradley have reacted more to competition than to oil prices. As the number of flights at Bradley increased in the years before 9/11, ticket prices began to decline. As capacity began to fall over the past few years, fares started going up.

So the average fare at Bradley now stands at $374. It’s a bit higher than the national average, which I’d expect at a smaller airport these days.

Still, a  few weeks ago I bought a one-way ticket from the West Coast to Bradley, for $120 – including taxes and fees.

You do the math. I can’t work it out.


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