Up, up and away

Up to $900 for an airplane ticket to Denver in the wake of the closure of Interstate 70? Sharp business practice, indeed.

Unfortunately, the high prices reported in The Daily Sentinel Wednesday are more a function of the airlines’ pricing structure than an attempt to gouge travelers needing an emergency alternative to traveling I-70.

When few seats are available, prices shoot up. And demand for flights between Grand Junction and Denver exploded in the wake of Sunday’s rockslide in Glenwood Canyon that closed I-70.

“I don’t think it’s a matter of fares jumping. It’s a matter of no seats,” said Grand Junction Regional Airport’s Rex Tippetts.

The same mechanism that allows travelers to book cross-country flights at extremely low prices when demand is low, usually by booking weeks or months in advance, causes the prices to take off as demand increases or reservations for particular flights approach the flights’ capacities.

Not that we’re thrilled with the current situation. We still wish there was more competition for flights between this community and Denver, competition that would help drive prices down. Frontier Airlines offered that competition for a time. But now, United Airlines and its commuter partners have the skies between here and Denver International Airport to themselves.

Government, of course, could jump into the fray on airline pricing. But government intervention frequently has perverse effects.

Consider the rules the Department of Transportation announced last year to fine airlines $27,500 per person if their passengers spend 3 hours or more stuck in planes parked on airport tarmacs. This week, Continental Airlines announced it will cancel delayed flights rather than risk the fines. The net effect: more inconvenience for travelers, not less.


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