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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

As Air Travel Picks Up, Fares At Charlotte Douglas Hit Record Lows

Eva Darron
Flights are cheaper than usual out of Charlotte these days.

The number of passengers taking planes continues to increase as more people resume traveling. The TSA says it screened nearly 2.2 million passengers on Sunday, the most since the pandemic began. Passengers looking to fly out of Charlotte are likely to find cheaper-than-usual airfare. In some cases, prices are the lowest they’ve been in more than two decades. For more, we turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment Biz Worthy.

Marshall Terry: Tony, just how low are we talking here?

Tony Mecia: Yeah, Marshall, at the risk of sounding like a used car salesman, it's like, "Buy now, buy now!" I mean, these are really low fares. We're talking $107 to Las Vegas, $500 range to Europe. It's really sort of across the board, you're seeing a lot of very low fares right now out of Charlotte and out of other airports across the country as well. Charlotte has traditionally been known as a very high-fare airport. We have a lot of non-stops to a lot of different places, which the business community loves. But those fares tend to be high. But here we're seeing prices have gone down since the pandemic. The federal government tracks these numbers every quarter, and in the last quarter of 2020, prices were at the lowest they've been since the government has tracked them — the average fares.

Terry: So why is this happening exactly? If more people are traveling, shouldn't prices be going up?

Mecia: Well, that's a very good question. Really, what we have is the collapse of business travel. Business travelers tend to pay a lot more than leisure travelers. They buy tickets at the last minute. It drives up those average airfares. Now, during the pandemic, business travel largely was eliminated. A lot of leisure travel was, too. The business travel hasn't come back yet, but you're seeing a lot of leisure travelers. So airlines are not able to make as much money. They make a lot of money off of business travelers. That hasn't returned. The leisure fares are still there, so they're orienting their fleets of aircraft more toward these leisure markets now where people are just really eager to get out and take vacations.

Terry: A few weeks ago, longtime Charlotte restaurant Zack's Hamburgers along South Boulevard announced it was shutting down. And you now know what will go in its place. So let me take a guess here: apartments?

Mecia: Ding, ding, ding. That's correct, Marshall. I talked to an executive with Embrey Partners, which is a real estate development company out of San Antonio, Texas. And they confirmed to me that they're planning about 375 apartments in a five-story building on that Zack's site. This is at South Boulevard and Scaleybark. They have a rezoning request in for a few of the parcels. They have a couple of the other parcels, including the Zack's site under contract. It's about 4 acres. So that's what they have planned there at that corner.

Terry: Is that corner along South Boulevard a new hot area of development in the city?

Mecia: I think it is, Marshall. You might know that there are some breweries down in that area — Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, a couple others. You also have a development there by the Scaleybark light rail stop called LoSo Station. Now, not everybody loves the name LoSo, but that's the name of the development — LoSo Station. You're seeing construction, mixed use apartments. There's been some recent announcements of restaurants going in there. So as South End sort of spreads to the south, you are seeing a lot of interest down there.

Terry: Finally, there was a big jobs announcement in Cabarrus County this week.

Mecia: Yes, Marshall. A couple of companies — Rauch North America and Red Bull, which is the maker of energy drinks — announced that they're working together and creating more than 400 jobs, more than $700 million in investments. This is for a manufacturing and distribution facility at the site of the old Philip Morris cigarette plant — a pretty big operation up there back in the day. (Gov.) Roy Cooper, who was on hand to make the announcement, he called it the largest economic development in Cabarrus County history, with about $4 million in state tax incentives to sort of help grease the wheels to make it happen. Certainly a big jobs announcement for Cabarrus County. It does sort of amplify this longer-term trend we've been seeing. You know, the recent jobs announcements in Charlotte, a lot of them have been for office-type buildings, office environments. The distribution of manufacturing, those tend to be more likely to pop up sort of in the counties surrounding Charlotte. So certainly some welcome news.

Terry: All right, Tony, thank you.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.

Terry: That's Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

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