One year after Southwest Airlines put West Michigan on the carrier’s map, recent statistics show Ford Airport prices have declined.
Officials credit the company’s presence at Gerald R. Ford International Airport with driving down the average ticket price by about 6.9 percent from the first three months of 2013 to those in 2014. An analysis of similar data obtained from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics indicate Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport experienced about a 1.4 percent decline during the same period.
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport saw a 4.1 percent increase in ticket prices.
Those figures give Ford Airport executive director Brian Ryks assurance that the so-called “Southwest Effect” is taking hold both in prices and passenger activity.
Average domestic airfares:
Q1 2014: $427 (Ford)
Q1 2014: $416 (Detroit)
Q1 2014: $413 (O’Hare)
Q4 2013: $449 (Ford)
Q4 2013: $439 (Detroit)
Q4 2013: $416 (O’Hare)
Southwest arrived Q3 2013
Q3 2013: $447 (Ford)
Q3 2013: $439 (Detroit)
Q3 2013: $415 (O’Hare)
Q2 2013: $434 (Ford)
Q2 2013: $419 (Detroit)
Q2 2013: $392 (O’Hare)
Q1 2013: $459 (Ford)
Q1 2013: $422 (Detroit)
Q1 2013: $397 (O’Hare)
Note: Figures rounded, adjusted for inflation
Source: U.S. Department of Transportation
“There’s been a real positive effect that we’ve seen since they started here,” said Ryks. Grand Rapids once had an average ticket price $166 higher than Detroit.
“(The low-cost) carrier forces the other major network carriers … to be more price competitive across the board.”
Prior to Southwest’s arrival, Ford Airport ranked near the top of the nation’s costliest airports. It still ranks No. 21, three places ahead of Detroit and six above O’Hare.
Travelers likely calculate several factors before considering an airport, including gas and parking fees. Ryks’ pitch to those considering a competitor’s hub is to keep those costs in mind before settling on an airport that isn’t as close to home.
Passenger departures and arrivals at Ford Airport are up about 5 percent year-over-year in 2014 to date.
“We feel that this market can absorb additional seats and be successful with it,” Ryks said. “You want to build the portfolio with a nice mix of national carriers, [like Delta Air Lines], and low-cost carriers.”
Southwest’s introduction to the local market largely stemmed from the efforts of Dick DeVos’ Regional Air Alliance of West Michigan. The alliance has been credited with securing AirTran Airways in 2010, which later merged with Southwest. The organization touted the effect low-cost carriers can have on airports across the country and saw a need in West Michigan.
Dave Smallen, director of public affairs at Bureau of Transportation Statistics pointed to other airports, such as Denver in 2006, which saw a 10 percent decline in average airfare with the introduction of Southwest. Prices have continued trending downward.
A new alliance led by Gerald R. Ford International Airport and The Right Place Inc. officials wish to continue the momentum. Delta Air Lines plans another daily, nonstop route to Atlanta in October after American Airlines establishes service to Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C., in September.
“I want to make sure customers are coming into or leaving Grand Rapids with a first-class experience … and we’re going to continue down this road and continue to make upgrades that all of West Michigan can be proud of,” Ryks said.
*Image courtesy of MLive