MEMPHIS, TN- (WMC-TV) - It costs more to fly in or out of Memphis International Airport than almost any other airport in the country. In a city where one in three jobs is tied to the airport's success, it's costing a lot of us even more.
Conventions have pulled out, business travel has been dialed back and more than 35 percent of Memphians who use the airport on a regular basis are driving hundreds of miles away to catch cheaper flights.
Air travel has never been cheap, but the costs keep climbing at Memphis International.
Business travelers like Leslie Morgan and Mark Rhodes are quick to complain.
"With my job I am traveling more, but I am driving more," said Morgan.
"Sometimes I fly to Houston and I can find it cheaper to drive to Jackson and then fly to Houston and still save about $300," said Rhodes.
In 2000, the average price of airfare at Memphis International was a little more than $364. Last year, the average price was more than $476.
From 2010 to 2011 alone, the average price of a plane ticket climbed nine percent.
"We don't like the prices anymore than you," said Scott Brockman, COO of the Memphis Airport Authority.
Brockman blames the increase on the airlines. They're the ones, he said, who set the prices.
"We asked them," Brockman said. "We want them to charge the lowest price possible, but we have no control over that."
The airline industry blames ticket increases on higher fuel costs.
In fact, Delta said they paid an additional $3 billion in fuel costs in 2011 compared to 2010.
But the airline also turned an $854 million profit last year, up 44 percent from the previous year.
And with more than 50 flights cut (PDF) at Memphis International, the airlines that do operate at the airport have little if any competition and can charge whatever they want.
"We have this challenge on the pricing which sometimes makes us at a disadvantage vis-a-vis other airports," said Kevin Kane, of the Memphis Convention and Visitor's Bureau. "That's something we're concerned about and we're working on."
It's work that could not save last year's COGIC convocation.
After more than 100 years in Memphis, the convocation moved to St Louis.
"They did point that out to Mayor Wharton and myself at our meetings with them this past November that airfares were a concern," Kane said.
Two months ago The Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce did a LARGE, RANDOM survey of about 1,200 people.
They found 36 percent of Memphians had driven to another city to take a flight at a lower cost. For business travel, 22 percent opted not to use Memphis International Airport because of the price of airfares while only 8 percent of inbound business travelers said they delayed or canceled flights due to the high prices.
"So it's definitely a local phenomenon that's causing people to drive to Little Rock or Nashville," said John Moore, CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber.
Insiders predict the addition of Southwest Airlines at Memphis International could bring down ticket prices in the future because more flights equal more options.
"We believe there's tremendous opportunity for Southwest to expand upon what the Air Tran base is today," said Brockman.
Until then, you'll keep paying sky high costs to get sky high out of Memphis International.