U.S. Airways plans to lower fares at Tweed

U.S. Airways is drafting plans to offer slashed airfares at Tweed-New Haven Airport beginning in February, according to Tweed officials.

The airline will cut fares on flights out of Tweed to match those of competing flights out of Bradley International Airport and the New York airports, which currently cost $60 less on average, airport officials announced last week. U.S. Airways did not confirm the airport authority’s announcement, but airport and city officials said U.S. Airways’ expected move could build momentum for the creation of new flight routes.

Tweed-New Haven Airport Manager Rick Lamport said the high fares on flights out of Tweed have harmed passenger numbers significantly, and that airport officials have been urging airlines to cut fares for several years. The change could trigger the creation of additional routes to new destinations, he said.

“If the numbers change significantly enough, then anything can happen,” he said. “The high premium on fares has been a problem for us because our market leaks to other nearby airports with people looking to catch better fares.”

U.S. Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder said that while the company is looking at a possible change of fares for Tweed flights, it has not finalized any plans. But U.S. Airways has been cutting fares across a number of routes in the past year, she said.

“We are currently evaluating different fare proposals for the New Haven market, and we have not committed [to anything],” she said.

Because no arrangements have been finalized, Lamport said, customers could be forced to wait several weeks before booking a low-cost fare if the plan goes through.

The announcement comes after the airport suffered a setback last January when its flight volume was reduced by a third after Delta Airlines ceased its service to the airport. Airport and city officials said they are currently in discussion with a number of other airline carriers who may come to Tweed in the coming months.

New Haven Economic Development Administrator Kelly Murphy said U.S. Airways’ expected fare reduction is a step in the right direction. A vibrant New Haven airport would make the Elm City much more attractive to new businesses, and the potential customer base for Tweed is growing as larger neighboring airports reach capacity, she said.

“Clearly there is a market, and it becomes more and more so when the airspace gets more filled around Kennedy, Newark and LaGuardia,” Murphy said. “It is important for Yale and the Medical Center to have a usable airport.”

Bruce Alexander, Yale’s vice president for the office of New Haven and state affairs and board member of the Tweed-New Haven Airport Authority, said the expected fare reductions will encourage students to consider flying through Tweed. While Tweed currently offers service only to Philadelphia, he said, the route allows students to connect to a variety of national locations.

“The convenience of flying in and out of Tweed has been offset to some extent in the past by the cost premium to do so,” he said. “The dash eights that U.S. Airways flies half a dozen times back and forth to Philadelphia are comfortable planes, and from Philadelphia one can fly to many places in the country — including West Coast cities.”

Christi Day, the public relations coordinator for the local travel agency STA Travel, said students tend to be more price sensitive than other segments of the air travel market and are attracted to low-cost travel options.

But students said that while they are glad to see the arrival of low-cost fares in New Haven, the cut itself will not change their travel habits much. It is more important for them to have a direct flight home, they said.

“As a regular user of Tweed, I am really excited about it,” Craig Kafura ’09 said. “What would really encourage students to fly through Tweed is an expansion of the flights routes they offer, but the price will help too.”

Tweed officials are also awaiting the State Department of Environmental Protection’s approval to create a runway safety area, the first step in a plan to offer flights within a 2,000 mile radius by 2020. Airport officials said they are expecting a final brief from the DEP in February or March.

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