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For Sunday, August 17, 2014

By McClatchy News Services


Study confirms airfares' big disparity

A new study has confirmed what many airline travelers have long suspected: On any given flight, passengers can pay twice as much as others in the same cabin section, and even as much as eight times more. The study, based on millions of airfares analyzed by travel-planning site, looked a several domestic flights taken in early May, including a United Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. On that flight, one-way fares ranged from less than $200 to more than $1,600 for coach seats.

The study also found that some airlines have a greater mix of prices than others. To gauge the disparity, Hopper calculated the percentage of fares that varied from the base fare on that flight.

Fares varied the least on Spirit Airlines (5 percent) and Virgin America (15 percent), while larger carriers such as United Airlines had 18 percent variability, according to the study.

The prices seem to vary less on flights to popular vacation destinations, such as Hawaii, because leisure travelers are more sensitive to price and are quick to cancel a trip if airfares are too high, said Patrick Surry, Hopper's chief data scientist.

But Surry said further studies are needed to determine why prices vary so much between flights and airlines. "This is something we'll be digging into in more detail," he said.


Bad news for anyone who has ever used the expedited airport security lines without having applied for the program: The Transportation Security Administration has been so successful at signing up travelers for the faster security lines, known as TSA PreCheck, that the agency will restrict passengers who sometimes are waved in when standard screening lines get long.

TSA PreCheck, which accepts travelers who submit background information for pre-clearance, has signed up more than 430,000 fliers since it launched in 2011. People who are approved don't have to remove their shoes, belts and coats, or unpack their laptop computers, when going through the faster PreCheck lines.

To qualify for the program, travelers can either be invited through an airline loyalty rewards program or can apply directly to the TSA and pay an $85 fee.

"As we have had more people signed up for TSA PreCheck, we'll be tapering back on those that we include on a random basis," TSA Administrator John Pistole said.

Hugo Martin, Los Angeles Times

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