Originally created 07/10/01

Cheaper plane tickets bypass Augusta airport



Cheaper ticket offers by many airlines still don't make flying out of Augusta Regional Airport any more of a bargain this summer.

In fact, flying from Augusta to four of five of the most popular destinations is more expensive than flying from Atlanta, Columbia or Savannah.

"It's just a matter of supply and demand," said Kirk Harrington, the owner of Aladdin Travel. "There aren't as many seats out of Augusta, so they're more expensive."

In a survey of fares by The Augusta Chronicle, flying from Atlanta was the cheapest to New York, Chicago, Washington and Las Vegas, and it was cheaper to fly from Savannah when going to Boston.

Mr. Harrington said most of his clients choose to fly from Atlanta because it's about 25 percent cheaper than flying from Augusta.

"I still feel the only thing that's going to bring fares down in Augusta is more competition or more seats," Mr. Harrington said.

"They're selling out so they don't have any incentive to drop the rates," he said. "Right now, the ball is with the airport commission and the airport director. The ball sits in their court to create an incentive for the Augusta travelers to travel out of Augusta."

Marcie Wilhelmi, Augusta Aviation's chairwoman, said the more expensive Augusta fares don't surprise her.

Only two airlines fly out of Augusta - Atlantic Southeast Airlines and USAirways Express - she noted. Comair, which has been on strike, is expected to resume service in December.

Few airlines make for little competition, and that makes traveling out of Augusta more expensive, she said. But the commission is trying to recruit more airlines, and Ms. Wilhelmi said headway is being made with two - Continental Express and Midway.

"Once we get two more, hopefully more will follow," she said.

Ms. Wilhelmi said she doesn't have a time estimate of when Augusta travelers can anticipate more airlines, but said she has "every expectation we will be met with success" in recruiting other carriers.

Until then, Mr. Harrington said his travel agency has been helping customers find the least expensive fares, regardless of which airport they use. For example, he has a client who was booking seven tickets to Las Vegas, and it was cheaper for the group to travel to Jacksonville, Fla., to take advantage of a $200 fare there as opposed to one costing twice that from Augusta.

Delta Air Lines began sending postcard-size mailings to frequent fliers last week that advertised a fare sale being offered exclusively at Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport.

Augusta Mayor Bob Young said Monday he was upset Delta did not extend the sale to Augusta Regional Airport, where service is provided through its wholly owned subsidiary Atlantic Southeast Airlines.

"They ought to have a card that says 'Here are some low fares out of Augusta,"' he said. "What they're doing is encouraging travelers to avoid the local airport and drive to Atlanta."

Delta offered discounts that expired July 8 to travelers purchasing tickets on the Internet, and the publicity kept AAA Travel in Augusta busy last week, said Heather Warren, travel manager.

Reach Teresa Wood at (706) 823-3765.