Which are the most expensive American airports?

Per mile traveled, the new list is this:

1. Cincinnati

2. Birmingham

3. Memphis

4. Dallas Love Field

5. Charlotte

A few points strike me.  First, not too long ago Cincinnati was rated as the very best U.S. airport by global standards.  At the time I thought that was silly and now we can see further reason why.  We should rate airports by consumer plus producer surplus, not by whether they scare away enough customers to make the experience a more pleasant one for the remaining diehards.

Second, these airports may have relatively high proportions of business travelers, as cited by the original article linked above at the top.

Third, theories of market power and fixed costs might predict that the most expensive airports, in per mile terms, should be found in the middle of the country or at least clustered near a lot of other airports.  Let’s say a consumer has to pay for (at least) two items in a fare.  The first is the marginal cost of the fuel and the labor, which will vary with distance in traditional fashion.  Second, consumers must pay to cover the fixed costs of “flying at all,” which would include for instance upkeep on airport facilities, maintenance, meeting FAA regulations, teaching the pilots how to land, and so on.  A lot of these costs do not vary proportionally with the length of the flight and you have to incur them for even very short flights.  Airports with a lot of very short flights thus will be more expensive on average, in per mile terms.  We also can expect these airports to be clustered in the middle of the country near a lot of other airports.

Which is the cheapest American airport in per mile terms?  It’s not in the fifty states at all — San Juan, Puerto Rico.


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