Baton Rouge is one of many cities across the country that has seen the number of flights in and out of its airport drop over the past few years, although the decline has not been as steep as in other cities with small airports.
The city has seen a 13.64 percent decrease in the number of flights at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport when comparing the third week of July this year with the third week of July in 2011. Domestic flights nationwide were down by 7 percent during the third week of July this year when compared to 2011, according to an analysis performed for The Wall Street Journal.
Still, an official with the Baton Rouge airport says the problem is not as bad here as it is in other parts of the country. At airports similar in size to Baton Rouge, flights have dropped much more.
Baton Rouge airport spokesman Jim Caldwell said while flights are down by 13 percent, seating capacity has decreased only 4 percent. That’s because larger jets now fly into Baton Rouge as opposed to the smaller planes coming in during 2011, he said.
“Maybe the frequency is one or two flights less to Atlanta, but the seating capacity is the same or a little more,” he said. Still, cuts to hubs have hurt Baton Rouge travelers by giving them fewer connection options. For example, Delta Airlines has closed its Memphis, Tennessee, hub.
Airlines say the reason for the fewer flights is because some of the biggest airlines have now merged into a few giants.
However, the Justice Department is investigating whether at least four of the airline giants — Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines — colluded to cut their number of flights and therefore hike up prices.
Caldwell said Baton Rouge is lucky that it’s served by American/US Airways, Delta and United with trips to their largest hubs. He said it also helps travelers that the airlines are members of international global alliances.
By comparison, flights are down by 34 percent for the third week of July at the Tallahassee International Airport in Florida when compared to 2011. They’ve also dropped by 34 percent at the Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport in Mississippi over the same time frame.
“We’ve been impacted to a lesser extent than most smaller airports,” he said.
One small contributing factor for why flights are down in Baton Rouge is that Vision Airlines used to provide some flights from Baton Rouge to Destin/Fort Walton Beach, Florida, and Las Vegas, according to Caldwell. Vision Airlines no longer offers that service out of Baton Rouge.
The four airline giants control 85 percent of domestic seating capacity and 90 percent of the revenue, according to Caldwell. He said the airlines are trying to maximize their profitability, especially after being deeply hurt by the recession a few years ago along with soaring fuel prices.
“This new consolidation, it’s kind of the biggest change in the industry since deregulation,” Caldwell said. “It’s a big, big change.”
Baton Rouge has to compete to make sure more flights are not cut, Caldwell said. He said airlines will not continue to add flights to the Baton Rouge airport if the ones already in place are not well-booked.
“Our market can be as big as our consumers make it,” he said. “You’ve gotta support your existing service. It’s not a ‘build it, they will come thing.’ ”
The Baton Rouge airport is in the middle of a community campaign to try to increase travelers who fly locally rather than driving to New Orleans or Lafayette.
New Orleans has seen a 7.25 percent increase in flights during the third week of July since 2011, according to The Wall Street Journal’s database. Lafayette has experienced a 0.83 percent increase for the same period.