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Why Travelers Flock to Airports In Small Cities

Lower fares, less congestion boost traffic at minor airfields

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Corporate lawyer Sig Roos works in Boston. But he seldom flies from nearby Logan International Airport.

Instead, Mr. Roos drives an extra 15 minutes or more to Rhode Island's T. F. Green Airport, taking the interstate south to Providence, rather than fighting Beantown's snarled traffic. Parking at Green is closer and cheaper than at Logan. But the big incentive is lower airfares.

On a recent trip to Denver, the least-expensive round-trip ticket Roos and his wife could get out of Logan would have cost $700. The same ticket out of Green was just under $400.

"We always check the prices of flying out of Boston and Providence," says Roos, who flies about once a month.

The Rooses are part of the growing legion of frequent fliers who are forsaking congested, big-city airports for the benefits of smaller airports - often located in the outskirts of urban areas.

This dramatic shift in American travel habits can be seen by the sharp rise in traffic at a number of smaller airfields - including Burbank near Los Angeles; Oakland; Chicago's Midway; Milwaukee's Mitchell Field; Baltimore-Washington and Dulles near Washington, D.C.; Colorado Springs; and Providence.

Experts attribute the shift in air travel patterns to two factors: Low-cost carriers moving into these airports because they are less congested, allowing them to land and take off again in a short period of time; and, suburbanites who find it more convenient to go to an airport near them or to take a route that offers less traffic.

"We are seeing a lot of reverse leakage - leakage away to an airport where you have a low-fare service," says Michael Boyd, president of the Denver-based Aviation Systems Research Corp., which forecasts traffic patterns for 127 airports. "It is typically defined by one - Southwest Airlines. But other airports are seeing strong growth because of demographic movement as well as airline service."

Terry and Karen Coolidge who live in the greater Los Angeles area, for example, choose to fly out of Burbank Airport rather than Los Angeles International.

"It's a lot easier to get in and out of. It's a 20-minute drive to Burbank, and it's 45 minutes to Los Angeles, where you have to drive through bad areas," says Mrs. Coolidge.

MAJOR carriers at larger airports aren't ignoring what has been dubbed the "Southwest Effect." They often drop fare prices to keep from losing passengers to the discount carriers.

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