High airline fares draw ire in Savannah

In the third quarter of 2009, Savannah/Hilton Head International was the only airport in the nation to see higher air fares compared with a year earlier, according to the most recent federal report on domestic fares at the nation’s top 100 airports. Savannah fares increased 2.5 percent to an average of $396 per round trip at a time when fares at all the other airports declined amid recession and slow travel demand.

Savannah business leaders have complained to Delta Air Lines. “The disparity in fares on Delta traffic into and out of the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is having a negative effect, not only on our tourism but also on our local constituents, especially regarding the extremely high fares between Savannah and Atlanta,” said the December memo from the Savannah Airport Commission, area chambers of commerce and the Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

They said said in a follow-up memo last week that a ticket from Savannah to Atlanta costs “in excess of $500” no matter when the traveler buys it. A spot check of Atlanta-Savannah fares on Delta’s Web site showed fares ranging from the mid-$200s to more than $500, originating in Atlanta or in Savannah.

“We fully understand that Delta does not want travelers out of Savannah to only travel to Atlanta and that Delta’s real desire is for those passengers to contribute to the remainder of your network’s hub and spoke system,” the group said in last week's memo. But, “we are simply requesting some fairness in the rate structure.”

Delta’s senior vice president of revenue management, Tom Bach, last month responded that the airline completed a review of its fare levels and found them to be “fully competitive” and “within reasonable tolerance levels.” But Delta also acknowledged Savannah’s fares were higher than fares out of Jacksonville, and said it adjusted its fares effective Jan. 23 on flights to about 120 destinations.

Undeterred, the Savannah business leaders in a reply said they are specifically concerned about high fares between Savannah and Atlanta.

“We realize that Delta no longer has competition on the Savannah/Atlanta route since AirTran ceased operations [in Savannah]. However, we believe that the fare is excessively high,” their Jan. 26 memo said. “Delta, in our opinion, is not allowing any air service between Savannah and Atlanta because of excessively higher fares; therefore, not allowing business travelers or tourists to fly between the two cities.”

Orlando-based AirTran discontinued its Atlanta-Savannah route in October 2008. Delta operates up to 10 daily nonstop flights to Atlanta from Savannah, for a total of more than 1,000 seats on the route daily, according to Delta. With flights from several airlines to hubs around the country, the Savannah airport saw its passenger counts decline by about 17 percent in 2009 from the previous year.

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