Good news. Yet another one of those surveys of top cities came out, and, once again, Madison is on top!
That’s right, Dane County Regional Airport is first in the nation when it comes to average airfare costs.
While our steep fares look bad on the surface, it actually speaks well for our airport’s high level of commercial travel. UW-Madison and our tech industry provide a lot of business for the airport. It has been estimated that Epic alone drives 7% of the airport’s traffic.
Because of healthcare IT and education, our airport offers more flights and more stops than it otherwise would. These flights sometimes come with premium fares, and larger firms often agree to pay that premium. They’d rather have their employees and guests at their location versus having them take a three-hour bus trip on company time.
Those premium fare prices are a little harder to swallow when you are a family or a small business, but it is still better than if those flights weren’t available to begin with.
What annoys me isn’t our airport’s high prices. It’s the lack of options to get to cheaper airports in other cities.
The lack of high-speed rail, which still burns more than four years later, means the only options to get to Milwaukee or Chicago involve the road. Taking a car is a difficult proposition for me; airport parking isn’t cheap at either location. Besides, my family only has one decent car — my stalwart 1996 Chevy Lumina hasn’t left Dane County since 2012. Taking the good car and leaving it in a ramp all week while I travel for work isn’t exactly fair to my partner.
So for me, going to General Mitchell or O’Hare means riding the bus.
The Badger Bus to Milwaukee is pretty underrated. It is almost always on time, has a bunch of stops in Madison and generally isn’t packed to the gills. Granted, the Wi-Fi is usually broken. However, the Wi-Fi on any bus is about as reliable as gas station coffee — sometimes it’s okay, and I’d rather not speak about the other times.
Still, it takes around two hours to get from downtown Madison to General Mitchell via bus. The train would have taken 75 minutes. A 45-minute difference is sizable considering it is only the first leg of a longer journey.
But that’s nothing compared to the jaunt to O’Hare. Based upon my experiences, the Van Galder is not as good at staying on schedule as the Badger Bus. It’s at least a three-hour bus trip, and I always budget an extra hour in case the bus is late. That’s four hours of travel — half a workday — before I’ve even set foot in an airport.
I understand why Dane County Regional Airport leads off its advertising with “Stop the Schlep” as opposed to talking about the great value. Skipping the pre-flight road trip has got to be worth skipping all this hassle. Dane County Regional Airport is the convenience store of airports.
Madison is a great place to live. That’s a good thing. It just takes a lot of time and money to get anywhere else.