Dollar bills on a line (Photo: Index Open)

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Airlines' fuel costs have spiraled into the stratosphere amidst rising oil prices, and according to Bloomberg, fuel surcharges have reached record levels as well. United and several domestic competitors recently unleashed a $420—yes, $420!—surcharge on consumers traveling overseas. $420 is a pretty good deal on off-season airfare to Europe!

According to Bloomberg, "surcharges are as much as 50 percent greater than those put in place when fuel prices reached a record three years ago." But much like the last fuel spike in 2008, prices are currently rising unabated, with no sign of relief on the horizon....read more»

Photo: Southwest Airlines

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All that's left is to cross the Ts and dot the Is.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) approved Southwest's acquisition of AirTran, setting the stage for a May 2 close, as Southwest indicated last week. The DOJ elaborated on its decision in a release:

After a thorough investigation, the division determined that the merger is not likely to substantially lessen competition.  The merged firm will be able to offer new service on routes that neither serves today, including new connecting service through Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International Airport from cities currently served by Southwest to cities currently served by AirTran.  The division said that the presence of low cost carriers like Southwest and AirTran has been shown to lower fares on routes previously served only by incumbent legacy carriers. 

Although there are overlaps on certain nonstop routes, the division did not challenge the acquisition after considering the consumer benefits from the new service.  Also, the airports affected by the overlaps are not subject to restrictions on slots or gate availability.  Where such restrictions exist, entry by other airlines may be particularly difficult....read more»

JetBlue Airplane in Sunset (Photo: JetBlue Airlines)

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JetBlue has opened its booking window through January 3, 2012, making it the first low-cost carrier to put 2011 holiday flights on sale.

As of this week, you can now search and book Thanksgiving and Christmas fares if you are so inclined.

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Not ready to think about the holidays? Neither are JetBlue's rival low-cost carriers. Southwest is currently accepting reservations through November 4, and neither AirTran (soon to be Southwest) nor Virgin America are booking much past early November.  The larger legacy carriers (like American and United) are booking through the holidays and into 2012, however.

...read more»

Airplane flying towards red sky (Photo: Timothy Goodwin/iStockphoto)

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USA Today reports that the union representing air traffic controllers will push for "controlled naps," despite Transportation Department chief Ray LaHood's insistence that his agency will not pay controllers to sleep on the job.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is currently investigating multiple incidents of controllers sleeping on the job, as well as one case of a controller watching a DVD while working. Several controllers have been fired, and LaHood recently went on morning TV to assure the public that he and his agency are on top of things. "We believe that these controllers are well-trained. We believe they're well-rested," LaHood said on CBS' Early Show. "But, we will do more. We will do what we have to do. We will not continue the kind of activity where seven controllers have fallen asleep."

But according to USA Today's Alan Levin, the controllers' union thinks more needs to be done to reduce fatigue....read more»

Southwest 737 jet approaching runway (Photo: iStockPhoto/Lowell Sannes)

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The hole that appeared in a Southwest plane earlier this month may have been the result of defects present in the plane since it was built, according to an exclusive ABC News report.

"After the April 1 incident, investigators found widespread cracking in the metal fuselage. The initial thought was that the cracks were caused by metal fatigue, a result of the plane's 39,000 takeoffs and landings.

"But now it appears it could be a problem in production, sources said. The plane was manufactured in 1996 and investigators are focused on rivets, thousands of metal pins that hold the pieces of an airplane together.

"Investigators believe that in the area of the plane's skin that failed, those pieces were not held together as they should have been."...read more»

(Photo: Southwest)

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Southwest announced that it expects its acquisition of fellow low-cost carrier AirTran to close on Monday, May 2, roughly seven months after the deal was announced.

"With the overwhelming approval of AirTran stockholders in March, we are ready to move forward with closing the transaction, now planned for May 2nd," said Gary Kelly, Southwest's Chairman, President, and CEO. The airline said Bob Jordan, Southwest's Executive VP, will be appointed as President of AirTran and guide the carrier through its integration with Southwest....read more»

Beach: Sandcastle Boys Running (Photo: Thinkstock/Comstock)

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With fuel costs skyrocketing and demand rising as we get closer to summer, it goes against logic that fares would still be affordable, but guess what—savings on domestic summer travel can still be had.

The Good News

An astounding 71 percent of the domestic routes I've been tracking since the start of the year have decreased month-over-month, though primarily on East Coast routes. Since we know demand and fuel costs aren't the driving force behind the savings, reasons for fare drops are routes with new service, as is the case between Chicago and Los Angeles. Ultra-low cost carrier Spirit began service on said market on April 1, sending other airlines scrambling to compete, and subsequently lowering fares a needle-moving 40 percent since last month.

The So-So News

The week-over-week news isn't as grand as the month-over-month reported above. 58 percent of the routes I'm tracking are cheaper than this time last week. Still nothing to sneeze at, but at least fares aren't moving in the opposite direction....read more»

Delta aircraft tail (Photo: Delta)

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned Delta after rodent droppings "too numerous to count" were found onboard a Delta aircraft.

According to msnbc, "The Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter on April 13 to Richard Anderson, the airline's chief executive, citing violations from an inspection that took place between Jan. 26 and Feb. 2 of a Delta plane. The inspection took place at a Delta hangar near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport."

Here are the, shall we say, intimate details of the FDA's findings....read more»

Air: Airplane in Sunset (Peach and Pink) (Photo: iStockphoto/Stephen Strathdee)

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The Department of Transportation (DOT) officially, finally, unveiled a series of consumer protections rules aimed at increasing transparency and fairness in the airline industry. The rules were proposed last June and won't take effect for 120 days.

Here are the main components of the new rules:...read more»

Photo: IndexOpen

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After what can only be described as a nightmare month, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and its parent agency, the Department of Transportation (DOT), are attempting to restore the public's confidence in the nation's air traffic control (ATC). Several recent incidents involving controllers sleeping on the job have rattled the industry and drawn scrutiny to the safety of the system. The agencies are preparing to meet with controllers across the nation in the hopes of learning what could be improved, while also doing a top-to-bottom review of ATC....read more»

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