When JetBlue Airways starts flying between Boston and Philadelphia in May, it will be the latest airline to take on US Airways in the troublesome market, putting pressure on the route’s sole carrier to lower fares.
JetBlue will make five trips a day starting May 23, with regular fares starting at $86 round trip, restoring competition to the route after Southwest Airlines dropped its Boston-Philadelphia service earlier this year, and US Airways fares doubled.
US Airways’ current advance-purchase prices start at $258 round trip for its 19 daily flights out of Boston during the week. Walk-up ticket counter price have soared to $800.
Philadelphia is the ninth largest market out of Boston, serving 640,000 passengers a year — the largest destination out of Logan International Airport served by only one airline.
Several other airlines have flown the route over the years, including Southwest, Delta Air Lines, and AirTran Airways (now owned by Southwest), and each time one of them pulled out, prices shot up.
Most passengers flying from Boston to Philadelphia are business travelers who care more about US Airways’ hourly flights than the price, analysts say, making the route less ripe for competition. US Airways also has a big presence in Philadelphia, with a popular frequent flier program and loyal customers.
US Airways filed new fares on the Boston-Philadelphia route Thursday, including one as low as $40 one way, for flights starting in late May, according to FareCompare.com — “clearly a reaction to JetBlue,” said Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.
US Airways spokesman Todd Lehmacher declined to comment on prices, saying, “We will compete just as we do today with a wide variety of carriers already serving Philadelphia.”
Edward Freni, direction of aviation for the Massachusetts Port Authority, expects JetBlue to have more success than Southwest, the last low-cost carrier to enter the market, did in 2010 because JetBlue has a bigger customer base in Boston and will fly smaller planes. They are easier to fill and less costly to operate.
JetBlue is the largest carrier at Logan, serving about a quarter of the airport’s passengers. The airline said it is not concerned about other carriers’ lack of staying power on the route.
“There is definitely enough traffic to support two airlines,” said spokeswoman Alison Croyle. “At lower, more reasonable fares, we will see more people electing to fly instead of making that dreadful drive or long train ride to get to their Boston or Philadelphia destination.”
One of the people making that drive regularly is Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group, which conducts public opinion research. Koczela’s wife is from Philadelphia, and after Southwest pulled out of the market they started driving, which meant a seven- or eight-hour, traffic-clogged trip if they didn’t go in the middle of the night.
“Just the prospect of not having to be in traffic jams and not having to leave at odd hours, it’s great,” Koczela said of JetBlue’s $43 one-way fares (with a $17 introductory sale).
“It starts to compete with even the price of gas.”