A battle for independence


America’s East Coast is basking in the glow of low-cost airlines – and enjoying low fares.

Flying from New England to Florida and across the country has never been so affordable. Thank you Southwest, jetBlue, ATA, Airtran and now Independence Air.

If the majors had their way, flights between the Boston area and Philadelphia would still be hovering around $800+ for walk-up tickets. New York-to-Miami would be more than $1,000 and Washington to the West Coast would be astronomical. All the while the majors – American, Delta, Continental, Northwest, United and US Airways – would be crowing about their service.

The advent of significant low-fare airlines on the East Coast has allowed passengers, once prisoners of the majors, to abandon the “excellent service” for realistic pricing and on-time arrivals.

The captive market in the Washington DC area was for years terrorized by the price-setting gurus of US Airways and United. Thankfully, Southwest took up residence in Baltimore to sooth the pain. But flying in and out of DCA and IAD continued to be expensive.

That market is now breathing the low-fare air of Independence Airlines. This organization is a force to be reckoned with. It is made up of the ex-United Express operator Atlantic Coast Airlines. They have gates. They have aircraft. They have pilots. They know how to operate from their Dulles Airport home base.

There is only one fortress that has yet to be cracked. That is the New York City shuttle market. US Airways and Delta control the hourly departures between Boston and LaGuardia and Dulles, but change is on its way.

Starting on June 16th Independence Air (www.flyi.com) is rolling out service that will grow to 35 destinations through September 2004. The first links in the chain of destinations will be between Dulles (IAD) and Atlanta, Boston, Chicago O’Hare, Newark, and Raleigh/Durham.

These flights will strike directly at bread-and-butter runs of the Boston-DC shuttle and the New York-DC shuttle. Fares will range from $49 to $124 – far less than shuttle fares – and will follow a simple, understandable fare structure.

Believe me, US Airways and Delta will not roll over and play dead. Delta will also have a fight on its hands in maintaining passengers on the flights to Atlanta. American and United will change fares to protect their hubs in Chicago O’Hare.

This is going to be a battle extraordinaire.

Here are the transparent details. Two days before Independence Air takes flight the majors are gouging us. The day Independence Air begins to fly, the majors suddenly want to save us money. Wow! What’s more, they are slashing fares more than half! You’ve gotta love them when they think so much of you.

Taking a look at Expedia, I checked one-way fares between IAD and BOS on June 14th. United is charging a low one-way fare of $155 and only two days later, Independence Air starts service, the one-way fare is cut by more than 50 percent, to $74.

American Airlines has one-way fares of $231 on June 14th. On June 16th, the day Independence Air takes flight, the prices magically drop to $94.

Delta (and low-fare Airtran) charges $159 to fly one-way on June 14th, however on June 16th the one-way airfares will drop to $94.

This is an amazing display of what the introduction of a low-cost carrier can do to a market.

When a low-cost airline with financial clout and gates can make a fun at LaGuardia airport the last major airline fortress on the East Coast will crumble.

If you are flying out of Washington DC, click through to flyi.com. Every time you fly with flyi, you are insuring that low fares will stay in the Washington area.