ANNAPOLIS Viki Baxter waited at Baltimore/Washington International Airport for a flight to Atlanta she knew would get her home later than scheduled, but she had no choice.
The company she works for always chooses Delta Airlines for her trips to Washington because Delta offers the cheapest fares from Atlanta – not necessarily the best on- time service.
“My experience is Delta tends to get me (to Atlanta) pretty late usually,” she said. “I am flying Delta because my business is paying for it, and it’s cheapest for them.”
While airline passengers want to arrive at their destinations on time, travelers often say price dictates which airline and airport they choose.
Capital News Service reviewed flights from Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport and Ronald Reagan National Airport to six common business destinations to determine how many reached their destination within 15 minutes of the scheduled time.
Flyers presented with the CNS analysis of 1998 flight data from the Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Statistics said they hoped to find flights that were on time and close to home but, above all, cheap.
“I’m usually attracted to whoever offers the lowest price,” said Washington resident Sonya Dyson. “I’m a bargain hunter.”
Taking a US Airways flight to Boston from Dulles International Airport last week, Dyson said she chooses both airlines and airports because of ticket prices.
“I normally fly from National,” she said. “I’m flying from here because this was a special fare offered only at Dulles.”
Coach seats on US Airways’ flights to Boston typically cost between $114 to $138, according to Internet airline fare trackers Travelocity.com and Microsoft Expedia Travel. US Airways offered some of the cheapest fares to the city.
Faced with a choice of price or time, Baxter said her ticket money would go to the lowest bidder, too.
“I always look at rates to choose an airline,” she said. “If I am going somewhere that I have a tight schedule, I look at time, but if I have leeway, I definitely look at price.”
A review of flight prices this week confirmed that Delta did have some of the cheapest seats to Atlanta. Coach seats on flights to Atlanta from Washington-area airports range in price from $154 round-trip to $298. Delta offered the lowest price from each airport.
Price ranks as one of customers’ top priorities in most surveys, said Kristie Kerr, Southwest Airlines spokeswoman.
Flyer Elaine Mandeville agreed that saving a few dollars is always a top priority when choosing a flight.
“I’m flying on Southwest because I heard the prices were really good,” she said while waiting for a flight to Providence from BWI.
Southwest offers an inexpensive round-trip ticket to Providence from Washington for $78.
Cheap fares are common in large cities so travelers shouldn’t have to do much shopping around, according to Tim Smith, spokesman for American Airlines.
In busier flight regions like Washington and Baltimore, competition between airlines is often so fierce that prices become irrelevant to outstanding service, he said.
“Certainly, price is very important, but given the fact our business is so competitive at most major (cities), the prices become similar among different airlines,” Smith continued. “One of the ways you can differentiate yourself is leaving and getting there on time.”
But, Chris Moran, a businessman from Haymarket, Va., said cheap trips and on-time flights do not attract him. He looks for a more specific quality in the airline that will get his hard-earned cash.
“It’s actually the seat room,” he said. “I need an aisle seat. I’ve had some pretty bad experiences with other seats on planes before.”