When Eastern Airlines stopped flying a few weeks ago, many within the airline industry were relieved to see the fallen carrier's deeply discounted fares disappear.
But cheap airline seats have returned with a vengeance. This week, Pan Am, Northwest Airlines, TWA Airlines and American Airlines unveiled fares that would have been the envy of Eastern's former executives. The culprit behind the price reduction was Pan Am, a venerable, financially troubled institution fighting for its corporate life.
Thursday, Pan Am announced fare cuts of up to 50 percent on some foreign and domestic routes. It capped a string of discount offers that began Sunday, when British Airways said it was slashing prices on its flights between London and the United States.
The Transportation Department has stymied British Airways' offer, but U.S. carriers have gone ahead and cut prices to compete at a time when passenger traffic has plunged during the Persian Gulf crisis.
Many of Pan Am's major competitors, such as TWA, wasted little time following suit.
"With the new fares we have now, if a passenger wanted to fly from Baltimore to Amsterdam, they would only have to pay $318," TWA spokesman Jim Faulkner said yesterday. That $318 fare also is good for flights to Paris, Brussels, Belgium, and Frankfurt, Germany.
TWA travelers taking advantage of the discounted price must make a connection at Kennedy International Airport in New York after leaving Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and must deal with myriad restrictions.
For flights to California from Dulles International Airport in Virginia, TWA is offering certificates that can be redeemed for travel to Europe or the Middle East. Business to destinations in those areas has been down because many travelers are wary of terrorism that could be spawned by the gulf conflict.
The most active carrier in the Baltimore region, Arlington, Va.-based USAir, has elected not to participate in the latest wave of fare cuts.
USAir has its fare schedule "under review, and that's about the bestI can tell you," airline spokesman Dave Shipley said yesterday. "We haven't made a decision thus far. I just talked to our tariff people a little while ago, and they're still looking at it."
USAir posted record record losses last year, as did the airline industry as a whole. Analysts have said that continued fare-slashing will keep troubled airlines from returning to profitability.
USAir already offers some discounts to keep pace with its competitors. It has a $298 round-trip fare to Los Angeles, which is subject to several restrictions, including ticket purchase no later than Wednesday .
The average round-trip coach fare between Los Angeles from Baltimore, with no advance purchase and no restrictions, was $1,306 yesterday, said travel agent Amy Page. The average first-class ticket with no restrictions cost $1,778, said Mrs. Page, who works with Four Seas and Seven Seas, a Baltimore-based chain of travel agencies.