Once again the Utah Air Travel Commission has released an update of the airline fares study it commissioned a year ago in the face of mounting public outrage over soaring ticket costs, and once again the report confirms that Salt Lake City air fares are high and getting higher.
But don't blame it all on Delta Air Lines. The study shows that Delta's relative fares were lower than four other carriers operating here this year.The latest update by consultant Kurth & Co. Inc., based in Washington, D.C., shows that Salt Lake City's fares this year were seven percent higher than the level of the 22 hub airports studied in 1989. Kurth said this translates into a relative 2.9 percent fare increase between 1989 and 1990.
In other words, Salt Lake City's fares for all carriers increased by 2.9 percent more than the average hub city during the year.
The new update of the Kurth report was presented to members of the Utah Air Travel Commission on Wednesday at its regular monthly meeting. Commissioners were asked to read the report over the next month and be prepared to comment on it at December's meeting.
UATC legal counsel William Gibbs gave a brief overview of the report and why it was commissioned, and said that it has proved invaluable in eliminating "anecdotal" evidence of local airline fare hikes in favor of hard data.
But the report doesn't tell the whole story, said Gibbs. Yes, fares have risen here, but so has access to other destinations, the number of non-stop flights, the level of service and the convenience to Utah air travelers. All of that, he said, "has to be balanced against (higher) air fares."
Salt Lake City's relative ranking compared to other hub airports did not change significantly this year, says the Kurth study. Its fares "improved" from being the ninth-highest to tenth when Minneapolis moved ahead with higher fares. But Salt Lake City's average fares were nevertheless 19 percent above the industry average this year compared with only 8 percent in 1989.
Delta Air Lines has taken most of the heat for the rising air fares because of its large hub operation here. According to Kurth, Delta's fare levels this year placed it tenth-highest among all hub city/carrier combinations, compared to ninth last year. Delta's Salt lake fares were 14 percent above industry average this year, up from 8 percent in 1989.
Kurth noted that American Airlines had three hubs, Northwest Airlines had two hubs and USAir had two hubs, all of which had higher relative fare levels than Delta has in Salt Lake City.
The report says Delta's 1990 fares were 5.5 percent higher than those of all 26 hub/
carrier combinations listed in the 1989 report. "Thus, Delta's SLC fares increased by 2.4 percent more than the average hub city/
carrier combination since 1989."
But 10 hub/carrier combinations had greater relative fare increases than the 2.4 percent Delta had in Salt Lake City, says the report, including a USAir hub at Dayton that was up 9.8 percent; a Northwest Airlines hub at Minneapolis up 15.8 percent, a Continental hub at Denver up 6.0 percent and three other Delta hubs that had higher increases.
"As in 1989, Delta was not the highest fare carrier at Salt Lake City during 1990. Alaska, United, American and Continental all averaged relatively higher fares during 1990 than did Delta," says the study. "In fact, Delta's SLC fares are slightly below those of all SLC carriers (14 percent above average vs. 19 percent)."
Relative to all Salt Lake carriers, the study concludes, Delta's fares actually declined by 3.9 percent while Northwest's increased 19.7 percent and American's increased 12.2 percent.
The study said Salt Lake City's overall fares are relatively high due, in part, to the fact that most of the local passengers use one of the three largest domestic carriers, American, United and Delta - the only airlines to collect above-average fares nationwide this year.
"Given the dominance of these higher-fare carriers at SLC, it is not surprising that SLC's fares are relatively high," the report states.
Fred Rollins, director of marketing for Delta's Salt Lake office, said the study "clearly shows that Delta continues to offer fares and prices in Salt Lake City that are competitive with other Delta hubs and other airlines serving the Salt Lake City market.
"Delta's mileage-based pricing is consistent with other Delta hubs, as well as other airline hubs as demonstrated by the survey."