Flights more plentiful, pricey
Logan tickets still better deal than elsewhere
Airlines are increasing flights and fares out of Boston this year, but ticket prices will still be cheaper at Logan International Airport than at most of the nation’s airports.
Capacity at Logan is expected to be up as much as 10 percent in June, compared with the same period last year. That would be the fourth-biggest increase nationwide, according to the aviation data firm OAG. Low-cost carriers such as JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines are slugging it out in Boston, and other airlines are adding international flights.
On average, fares in June will cost $29 more at Logan, compared with the same month last year — about $10 more than the national increase, according to the travel site FareCompare.com. But that won’t be enough to push Boston’s relatively low rates higher than what’s available in most other markets.
“They’re doing a little bit of catch-up, but they’re still well behind the rest of the country,’’ said Rick Seaney, who is chief executive of FareCompare.com.
Boston flights will average $318 round-trip, or nearly $50 less per flight than the national average, in large part because of the expansion of low-cost carriers here.
The change in Boston comes after several years of shrinking capacity, measured by the number of seats per total miles flown.
There was virtually no growth at Logan from June 2009 to June 2010, and capacity shrank by almost 3 percent the year before, according to the Air Transport Association, the airline industry trade group. Cities like Boston that don’t serve as airline hubs have taken a hit as beleaguered carriers have pulled back flights to concentrate on their hubs.
But Boston has come back stronger than most this year. The only airports experiencing more growth are Chicago Midway, Fort Lauderdale, and Phoenix, according to the OAG.
“There are many communities out there doing anything and everything just to retain what they have,’’ said a Massachusetts Institute of Technology airline researcher, William Swelbar. “Boston really is unique relative to other airports.’’
One of the main reasons for Logan’s capacity growth is the entrance and expansion of low-fare carriers such as JetBlue and Southwest. The airlines not only increased the number of destinations served, but drove down fares. When Southwest announced it would start flying between Boston and Philadelphia for $118 round-trip, for instance, US Airways dropped its $1,100 fare to match.
New York-based JetBlue has led the way: The airline has become the busiest airline at Logan, carrying more passengers and flying to twice as many nonstop destinations as any other carrier in Boston.
And it’s not done. JetBlue plans to increase its capacity in Boston by 22 percent this June, compared to last June, and said it will be up 30 percent by the end of the year. The airline plans to get to about 100 flights a day this year, and does not plan to stop growing until it reaches 150.
“We saw a market where we could be big and relevant,’’ said Dave Clark, director of network planning for JetBlue. “Boston is by far our number one growth area in the network.’’
JetBlue’s main low-fare competition at Logan is Dallas-based Southwest, which started with 10 daily nonstop flights to two cities out of Boston in the summer of 2009 and now has 26 daily nonstop flights to six destinations — a 160 percent increase.
Southwest declined to comment on future growth before its acquisition of low-cost carrier AirTran Airways is finalized this year, but said it would have 40 percent more capacity this June at Logan than it did last June.
The big winners amid all this growth are passengers.
Ted Dunne flies out of Logan about once a month for his sales job at IDC, a technology market research firm in Framingham. He used to pay $600 to fly to San Francisco on American Airlines or United Airlines, but now that JetBlue and other low-cost carriers have entered the fray, ticket prices have been cut in half.
“Why not play the game, let these guys beat each other’s brains out, and as a consumer you just pick the ones with the more convenient schedule,’’ Dunne said.
Boston’s location is also driving some of its capacity growth. Because it is in the Northeast Corridor, across the Atlantic from Europe, it’s a logical place for airlines to add international flights — a major focus for legacy carriers as markets open up around the world — as other gateway cities get more crowded.
“If you were able to cultivate the Boston market for nonstop travel into Europe, why wouldn’t you? You’re going to have to duke it out with four or five competitors if you want to do it in the New York area,’’ said FareCompare’s Seaney.
Delta Airlines is increasing its capacity at Logan by 35 percent, the majority of which is coming from new flights to Heathrow Airport in London and additional flights to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, both beginning in March.
To help fill its overseas flights out of Boston, Delta also is launching service to Logan from Norfolk, Va., and Pittsburgh in April.
International carriers Aer Lingus, Icelandair, and Air France are also increasing the number of flights out of Boston this year.
But not every airline is growing at Logan. Virgin America is shrinking its presence by 19 percent; a spokeswoman said the airline has no concrete plans to add routes out of Boston.
American Airlines is scaling back 15 percent. “Our focus in the Northeast has been New York, which is now one of our five US cornerstone markets,’’ said spokesman Ned Raynolds.
Overall, Logan is still about 30 percent below its peak of 1,400 flights a day a decade ago, but airport officials expect capacity to keep increasing as the economy strengthens.
“There’s a lot of growth left on our airfield in terms of added flights, but there isn’t in New York, and there isn’t in Philly,’’ said Thomas Kinton, the outgoing executive director of Massport.
“When you look at how congested those airports are going to get, as more and more people fly, the airlines start to look at alternatives.’’
Katie Johnston Chase can be reached at email@example.com.