Flights are cheaper! Bad news: You're from the Midwest

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics came out with its periodic survey of airfares, and the downturn in travel showed up in the numbers.

Prices dropped 9.1% compared to late last year, the largest per-quarter drop in recorded history.

It's worth noting that the statistics don't include what people are paying to check their baggage.

Of the top 100 American airports, the ones with the highest average fares were Huntsville, AL, followed by Cincinnati. Rounding out the pricey list were Grand Rapids, MI; Savannah, GA; and Des Moines, IA.

Where have fares jumped the most? All over Texas and the lower Midwest: at Dallas Love Field (where fares have more than doubled since 1995), Houston Hobby, and Lubbock in the Lone Star State, plus Oklahoma City and Memphis.

Since 1995, Dallas Love, which has a market hampered by strict rules about where airlines can fly from there, has been hit the hardest by increases, followed by Lubbock, Houston Hobby, El Paso, and finally the only non-Texas airport on the gloom list, Reno, NV.

Meanwhile, the top three lowest fares could be found in California, at Long Beach, Oakland, and Burbank. Those were followed by Dallas Love Field (maybe not for long, given the rise also recorded) and Las Vegas. Relief may be in sight for Cincinnati, Richmond, Madison, WI, and San Francisco. Long Beach, already in the lowest-fare group, is seeing even more declines.

The disparity in pricing between second-tier airports has always been an annoyance. Every time I get a quote from Northwest Airlines to Minneapolis/St. Paul and I stack it next to journeys of a comparable length, it seems like it's more expensive than it should be.

But it's an annoyance that Americans are used to taking for granted. There are always certain airports that everyone in the region knows to avoid.

If you live in Savannah or Huntsville, for example, driving to Atlanta to catch a flight there may end up saving you hundreds of dollars. I know people from Miami who won't touch their airport. They'd rather brave I-95 for an hour and grab the lower fares in Fort Lauderdale.

But Middle America, including Texas, seems to be paying the most per mile. It's little wonder why people from Middle America have a reputation for traveling abroad less frequently than their coastal counterparts -- they can barely afford to cross their own country first, let alone buy a international ticket on top of that.
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