Airlines follow Southwest with fare hikes

U.S. air carriers increased fares yesterday after Southwest Airlines boosted its one-way ticket prices by as much as $10 over the weekend, citing higher fuel costs.

Southwest hiked fares $1, $3 and $5 in select short- and medium-haul markets. The $10 one-way increase is in markets of more than 1,250 miles, including Albuquerque, N.M., to Baltimore, the company said.

"It is a small increase to mitigate cost," said Whitney Eichinger, spokeswoman for Dallas-based Southwest.

It was the low-cost carrier's fourth fare increase this year, and other airlines quickly followed suit.

"This is a very competitive business, and we always pay close attention to what our competitors are doing," said Tim Smith, spokesman for Fort Worth, Texas-based American Airlines, the nation's largest carrier. American is a unit of AMR.

United Air Lines, a unit of Chicago-based UAL, matched the increase in markets where it goes head to head with Southwest.

"We have matched the increase that Southwest initiated to ensure that our fares stay competitive and to help offset the rising cost of fuel," United spokeswoman Roban Urbanski said.

US Airways, Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines also matched the fare increase.

It's been a busy summer travel season for the major airlines, with some carriers posting record occupancy loads on their planes.