How much are you really paying for your plane ticket?

How much are you really paying for your plane ticket?We’ve heard airline employees gripe ad nauseam about how flying just isn’t what it used to be … because it’s so much cheaper than it was back in the glory days. True, we’re looking at a much different world post-regulation, but that was so long ago that it isn’t relevant any more.

So, what about today? Are airlines still getting hammered in the deal (as they contend), or are consumers giving ’til it hurts? The answer, of course, is somewhere in the middle.

You probably saw my story this week that puts plane tickets up 13.1 percent year over year for the second quarter, though it really just offsets a 13 percent decline last year. Nonetheless, the $341 average domestic fare is close to the 2008 peak of $346 and the third-highest average domestic fare attained since 1995 (2006 came in second at $342). It really does feel like we’re getting screwed.

Think again. Airline employees have a point, but only narrowly.

Adjusted to 1995-equivalent dollars, the average domestic fare this year is only $238. That’s a 20 percent drop from the $297 average fare in 1995. Over the past 15 years, the airline industry has lost a lot of ground. The peak, in 1995-equivalent dollars, was reached in 1999 ($302) and maintained in 2000 ($300) before the slide began. Even in this analysis, however, 2010 shows a marked improvement from the 2009 level of $213 (in 1995-equivalent dollars).

So, in pure cash, the airlines have been getting shafted. The industry’s position falls apart, however, when you consider the inclusion of ancillary fees, which are expected to be good for $8.9 billion in airline profits this year, according to IATA. The inflation-adjusted fare we’re paying doesn’t include the amenities we used to receive … and the airlines are generating extra income from what they used to include in the price of a ticket.

There’s no doubt that airfare is cheaper than it’s been in at least a decade and a half, but you’re not getting the value you used to.

[photo by Mr. T in DC]