There’s mixed news for passengers who rely on San Antonio International Airport. In a previous story, Texas Public Radio reported that airlines have cut the number of flights between San Antonio and Mexico, and the number of passengers flying those routes has dropped 21 percent over the past year. But airport officials say domestic service is growing. What does that mean for specific destinations? And are historically higher-than-average ticket prices becoming more competitive?
A year ago, San Antonio announced financial incentives to lure more airlines and non-stop flights to its city-run airport.
Allegiant Air came in with flights to Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas and Orlando. Frontier began service with flights to Atlanta, Denver, Las Vegas and Philadelphia.
The new carriers helped boost domestic travel at San Antonio International by 3 percent.
“We are taking a much more assertive and aggressive pursuit of these airlines and expansion of air service than I’m confident we did in the past," says Tom Jones, who signed on as the airport’s aviation director 10 months ago.
He says this coming year he’ll expand the staff of Brian Pratt who was hired to pursue additional non-stops and flights.
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity when we look west, the Portlands, the San Francisco Bay area other markets in that direction," Pratt says. "But internationally, Canada, there’s opportunity there."
He says it’s still a long-standing priority to attract non-stops to Boston, a hub for bioscience research; to New York’s LaGuardia; and to Reagan National, the airport closest to Capitol Hill.
Aviation consultant Mike Boyd says that is a tall and improbable order.
“You’re not going to get a lot more non-stops," Boyd says. "There are a few out there. But this silly business that we want non-stops virtually to everywhere. They said Boston. I don’t think Boston can support non-stops."
“You have excellent air service from the rest of the world, and there are some markets on the margins that probably could be satisfied, additional service to Northwest to places like Portland those things are probably there," Boyd added.
But Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Richard Perez believes those prized non-stops are worth pursuing. San Antonio leaders have been talking to congressional representatives about lifting federal aviation restrictions that prevent flights from the Alamo City to Washington’s Reagan. Perez thinks San Antonio has a strong case.
"I think our strength is two things: we are the seventh largest city in the nation and No. 2, we have such a large military footprint here and they got that," Perez says. "So, I think we are going to continue to push the opportunity that it enhances military readiness and military capability so I think that is going to be our route."
As San Antonio works to attract new air service, it tells a story of strong customer satisfaction ratings; low operating costs for airlines, and short waits at security check points. It may also have to address some ongoing questions about ticket prices.
The annual Airport Affordability Report from CheapTickets.com shows San Antonio’s prices have become more competitive. Last year San Antonio ranked 71 among the 100 most affordable cities to fly from. This year it ranks 56.
But the average San Antonio ticket price of $332 is still higher than the average prices at all of the Texas airports in Houston, Austin and Dallas. In Austin, 80 miles away, the average airline ticket costs $295 , about 11 percent less.