Prices are sky-high at Madison's airport, which now claims the dubious distinction of having the highest average ticket prices of the 100 busiest airports in the country, up from its previous ranking as number two, a study found.
The November study, conducted by the financial technology company Smart Asset, found that the Dane County Regional Airport had the highest average fare of $526, only one of three airports with an average price over $500. The other two, Washington Dulles International Airport and Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, lag behind with respective average airfares of $526 and $503.
According to the study, data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics show the average cost of a domestic flight in the U.S. increased from $328 to $397 across the second quarter of 2022 — an increase of 21%. Airfare at the Dane County Regional Airport increased 20.6% during that same timeframe.
Dane County Regional Airport Director of Marketing and Communications Michael Riechers said the airlines are primarily responsible for ticket costs.
“[Dane County Regional Airport] doesn’t have any direct control or influence over ticket pricing,” Riechers told News 3 Now. “Each airline that really operates here, they’re really tenants of the airport, so each airline sets their own pricing, they set their own scheduling, they set everything to conduct business.”
In a Smart Asset study from August, Madison had the second highest average airfare in the country, with the average flight costing $436. Only Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport had a higher average airfare at $456. Madison was identified as the 10th worst airport in terms of rising costs, with flights $94 higher than a year prior — the seventh highest increase among the 100 busiest airports from the first quarter of 2021 and 2022. These increases were driven by inflation and the rising price of jet fuel — which increased roughly 110% between the first quarters of 2021 and 2022.
CheapAir.com CEO Jeff Klee said smaller cities are seeing higher spikes in ticket prices.
“Traveler demand is contributing to the higher prices we're seeing right now, but fuel prices and staffing shortages are still the real culprits,” Klee said, adding that larger markets are seeing smaller spikes in domestic airfare prices. “If you live in one of those larger cities — you might see less of a sticker shock than someone from a smaller city."
The majority of the airports showcased on the most expensive list are mid-size airports like Madison, reflecting the price disparity between smaller airports and larger ones. Dane County Regional Airport had around 2,530 flights in November across 31 airlines. In contrast, O’Hare International Airport, which services Chicago, had nearly 60,000 flights last month across 1,396 routes. According to Riechers, larger airports with a higher volume are able to keep costs lower.
While Dane County’s airport is located less than 20 miles from campus, some University of Wisconsin-Madison students like senior Jamie Randall say high prices have pushed them to look elsewhere for flights.
“When I look at flights from Madison, they are always double the price compared to [Milwaukee] or O’Hare,” Randall said. “Flying to the East Coast, yes, it’s only two hours from Madison, but it’s worth it for me to take more time to get home for a lower price.”
Gavin Escott is a senior staff writer and photographer for multiple desks at The Daily Cardinal. Throughout his time at the Cardinal, he's written articles for city, state, campus and breaking news. He is the current host/producer of the Cardinal Call podcast. Follow him on Twitter at @gav_escott.