High Petroleum Prices Result in Soaring Fares

For the seventh time this year, airline companies have made flying more expensive, leaving passengers wondering how far airlines - and fuel prices - will push prices.

"Everything's based on the gasoline, and as long as their fuel is going through the roof, I don't see them leveling off," said Stuart Bufferd, general manager of Creative Travel in Melville.

The most recent increase came June 15, when six of the seven largest U.S. airlines - American, United, Delta, Continental, Northwest and US Airways - announced that last-minute and first-class travelers would have to pay $50 more each way.

Southwest Airlines, the major carrier at Long Island MacArthur Airport, was the only one of the seven to not raise its fares. Spokeswoman Whitney Eichinger said that was because the fuel increase was in line with the company's predictions when it set its fares.

With the increases, customers are now paying about 12 percent more for the same airline tickets they bought a year ago, according to the Air Transport Association, a Washington, D.C.-based trade organization.

That figure might be even higher for some travelers, Bufferd said, noting that overseas fuel surcharges that were $50 last summer have jumped to $160 for most major airlines.

Because of fuel costs, travel experts like Bufferd and Robert Mann, an airline industry analyst based in Port Washington, say prices might stay the same throughout September, October and November, when prices normally drop during the seasonal lull in travel, and are likely to go up again in December, when people travel during the holiday season.

The last time prices rose in step with this year's 11.9 percent increase was in early to mid-2001. Then came Sept. 11, and airlines, to encourage people to fly, dropped prices. In October 2001, prices were 18 percent lower than the year before, according to the Air Transport Association.

Since then, consumers have taken advantage of lower fares, to the point that this summer, an estimated 207 million people will fly. That's the highest number in 40 years.

"We're busy at Long Island. We've been busy at Baltimore," Eichinger said. "It's been on target for being one of our busiest summers."

As far as travel agents can tell, travelers aren't even compensating by shortening their trips or booking cheaper hotels.

"You try to get into the better hotels in Paris, and they are all booked," Bufferd said.

The situation is not totally bleak. Even now, customers can still book early for better prices, said David Stempel, president of the Air Travelers Association.

Passengers also should be prepared to "sit in the middle seat" as airlines cut flights to stay in business, Stempel said.

"There's only one thing worse than high fares, and that's no fares because of no service," he said.

Overseas fuel surchages for most major airlines

$50 last summer

$160 this summer

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