Flying From Lansing Can Save You Time, Money

This is the sort of problem that smaller cities like Lansing have faced for many years as the volume, convenience and cost of air travel have bounced up and down, along with the commitment of Lansing-area residents to fly from Lansing rather than some other airport. The result, according to air travel research conducted for the Capital Region Airport Authority, has been the loss or “leakage” of roughly 200,000 passengers per year from Lansing to other nearby airports in Grand Rapids, Flint, and, in particular, Detroit.  According to the airport authority, an additional 200,000 passengers per year flying from Lansing are the equivalent of eight additional DC9 flights or 16 additional regional jets (e.g., 50-seat aircraft) per day, and this additional volume of traffic would likely attract new airlines to Lansing.  This, in turn, would expand the impact of Capital City Airport to an estimated $1.5 billion per year for this region.

The reasons typically offered for using other airports as the starting point for air travel include poor travel experiences either departing from or returning to Lansing, a preference for nonstop flights over intermediate stops and changing planes, and, of course, lower fares for flights from other, busier airports.

While individual travel experiences are very subjective, and nonstop flights to top destinations from Lansing are in fact limited (although Las Vegas, Orlando and Atlanta can be reached nonstop from Lansing), the cost of travel from Lansing versus other points of departure is less cut and dried.  While the cost of most airline tickets from Lansing is more expensive than tickets from Detroit to the same destinations, it may be argued that the total cost of travel for Lansing-area residents from Detroit to many of the most popular destinations for either business or leisure travel does not appear to be as advantageous when all of the costs of driving to Detroit—including parking, gasoline, and for business travelers, lost productivity—are figured in.

In order to test this hypothesis, Lansing’s Capital City Airport conducted a simple experiment this past June in which the total cost of travel to the 20 most popular destinations for Lansing-area travelers was determined from both Lansing and Detroit on the same days, with the same return date, and with the same amount of time allowed for advanced ticketing (one week, one month, and three months in advance).  Factors in the total cost of travel from Lansing and Detroit included the average time and mileage to get to each airport from five different Lansing-area locations, time to park and walk to the terminal, parking fees, plus the total value of the individual’s time getting to the airport, flying to his or her destination, and the time spent between flights if more than one flight was required to reach the destination.

This experiment produced a few important results.  On average, every time a business traveler drives from Lansing to Detroit to catch a flight, the cost of that drive, adds a minimum of $166 to the round trip cost of that flight.  This measurable cost—what may be called the Detroit hassle factor—includes the average round-trip cost of driving to Detroit’s airport from Lansing, the mileage cost for gas and other automotive expenses, and the additional time it takes to find parking and walk to the terminal.   Add in the higher cost of parking in Detroit and the extra time it takes to check in and pass through security, and the premium for flying from Detroit instead of Lansing approaches $200.

The next question is whether or not the Detroit hassle factor adds enough to the overall cost of travel to make flights from Lansing competitive in price and more convenient than driving to Detroit to reach the same ultimate destination.  The results of this study demonstrate that when the least expensive flights from Lansing and Detroit to the same destinations on the same days are compared, about half of all these trips are less expensive from Capital City Airport and are very close in total cost when compared to travel from Detroit, and 75 percent of these trips are no more than $99 more overall than the cost of traveling by air from Detroit.

We also found that some situations are more advantageous for Lansing-area travelers than others.  Reservations made only a week in advance, for example, for business travel—out on a Monday and back two days later—were expensive from both airports, and only 20 percent of these costs were lower from Lansing than from Detroit when all expenses are taken into account.  On the other hand, for travel booked a month in advance, 40 percent of the trips were less expensive from Lansing, and another 15 percent were very competitive with total Detroit costs.  For travel booked three months in advance, which is more consistent with leisure travel, the comparisons are about the same.

The conclusion is that there are many instances in which travelers can save time and money by flying from Lansing, and if more travelers—both business and leisure travelers—choose to fly from Lansing, some of the air travel options Lansing has lost in recent years will have some motivation to return.

Laurence S. Rosen, PhD is the director of health programs at Public Policy Associates, Incorporated, a Lansing-based public policy research, development and evaluation firm with a nationwide clientele.








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