Friday, October 28, 2016

The high cost of flying out of Idaho Falls

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - “Way too expensive!” That's the sentiment of many flying in and out of Idaho Falls Regional Airport (IDA). All you have to do is look at the airport's Facebook reviews to see the frustration.

“It will cost you hundreds less if you drive an hour to the Pocatello airport where parking is free, fly to Salt Lake, and then get on the same plane from Salt Lake that you would if you flew out of Idaho Falls,” Rachel Hansen wrote on the page about a year ago.” “If you want to make the IF airport attractive you try and get the airlines to lower fees. At the very least make parking free like it is at Pocatello.”

Hansen's frustration is understood by the staff at IDA.

“We are very aware of the differentials in airfares between our main competitors, Salt Lake City and Pocatello airports,” IDA Director Craig Davis said.

What causes the high cost of flying out of Idaho Falls? The airport director explains why.

Davis says the reason behind the high cost is simple, it's all about cost and demand. In 2015, IDA saw over 150,000 passengers, according to Davis. He says upwards of 95 percent of seats were full on every flight in 2015. That causes the cheaper seats many hope to get to sell out faster, Davis said.

"Airlines have as many as 12 different airfare classes; most people don't realize that. As demand for each flight, as passengers buy the tickets, the airfare, the low bucket seats sell out faster than the high bucket seats,” Davis told KIFI/KIDK. “So the demand at each airport drives those airfares."

For example, Davis says, take a 150-seat aircraft. The airline might make 10 percent of those a "low bucket cheap seat." As those sell out the next more expensive pricing tier kicks in until the flight is sold out. According to Davis, airlines have 12 different tiers.

“We are a perfect money-making airport for them. They leverage that demand for their profitability, unfortunately for our passengers," he said.

The high costs at IDA have passengers looking elsewhere for cheaper fares. According to Davis, a third-party consulting company found 60 percent of potential IDA passengers are traveling to Salt Lake City for a cheaper flight. Just under 2 percent go to Boise and 0.03% drive to Pocatello. Davis says the airport is working to keep those passengers at IDA.

"Once we can get competition in, it has happened all over the country. You see examples of other regional airports, they bring in Alaska or some similar competing airlines and the airfares drop across the board,” Davis said. “That is our primary focus and think that is our only option at this point, to bring airfares down is to bring the competition in."

That competition could come in the form of another airline. Davis said the airport is currently in negotiations with Alaska Airlines to bring a direct flight to Seattle. The airport is working with the city of Idaho Falls to develop a plan to present to Alaska guaranteeing revenue. Davis says bringing in the flight will cost the airline $5.9 million a year.

"We have met with over 100 businesses in the past years, local businesses, to get letters of credit to put towards our risk mitigation plan that we are going to offer the airline," Davis said.

IDA is currently just one of several airports Alaska is negotiating with. Davis hopes a contract will be signed in the first or second quarter of 2017. Davis tells KIFI/KIDK Alaska will have three flights a week to Seattle.

The issues of high airfare out of IDA are also known by the airlines. Davis said he has been working with them since arriving four years ago to bring the prices down.

"I have personally been to their headquarters three times in my four-year tenure with our air service development consultant and each time we had strong data presentation to talk about the airfare difference,” he said. “It is a little like asking a CEO to take less profit on his shareholders so it often falls on deaf ears."

Until the price drops, and the new airline arrives, Davis is reminding possible passengers that just because the airfare at a neighboring airport is cheaper doesn't mean your overall cost will be less.

“A lot of folks think about their hotel, their gas, and their food,” he said. “Those are no brainers, but a lot of folks do not, what we are trying to drive and educate people is to say 'hey look at your time.' A lot of these folks are wealthy, savvy business folks that are driving out there and their time is worth a lot of money."

To help you calculate those costs, the IDA website has a cost calculator you can use to figure it out.

Davis says to fly on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday and book three weeks in advance if you wish to get the best fare.


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