Welcome to the Competitive Skies
Steigerwald, Bill, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Once upon a time, but not too long ago, Pittsburghers were robbed every time they flew out of town.
The airway robbery was so bad, and so obvious, that during the 1990s an estimated 193,000 Western Pennsylvanians a year motored to airports in Cleveland, Columbus and Akron to save money.
In 1995 -- because USAir virtually monopolized air travel into and out of Pittsburgh -- we paid some of the highest average fares in the country. Yet airfares in Cleveland -- and almost-as-cheap Columbus -- were 30 percent lower on average. Why?
Because those cities had two things at their airports that Pittsburgh's airport did not have then and only got recently: Southwest Airlines and competition.
In 1995, when USAir controlled 90 percent of passenger traffic and its closest "competitor" carried 2 percent, the average roundtrip airfare in Pittsburgh was $334.
Up at Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland, Continental held a hefty 54 percent share. But seven other airlines -- led by USAir's 8.7 percent and Southwest's 8 percent -- had 4.8 percent market shares or more. The average 1995 roundtrip price: $232.
The airports in Cleveland and Columbus, where Southwest (22 percent) now leads an eight-pack of airlines with at least a 3.2 percent slice of the market, haven't changed much. They're as competitive and affordable today as ever.
But since 2005, when Southwest Airlines came to town with its famous low fares, there have been revolutionary changes at Pittsburgh International -- and largely for the better.
As of last month, US Airways carries less than 40 percent of Pittsburgh's passenger traffic. Southwest has 15.5 percent, followed by Delta (9. …