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Airlines Hike Fares While Passengers Remain Stranded

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Airlines have hiked fares for the second time this month. NPR reports that United, Continental, Delta and possibly American have raised prices by $10 each way, effective immediately. Southwest has not yet joined the hike.

The fare hike comes as many travelers remain stranded at airports across the northeast following this weekend’s nor’easter.

Two weeks ago, American initiated what became an industry-wide fare hike when it was matched by Continental, Delta, United, US Airways, Virgin America, Alaska, Frontier and Southwest. That was one of the few broad fare hikes to stick in 2010, and it appears airlines were emboldened enough to try again. The main motivation for these hikes is likely the rising cost of fuel, which is at its highest point in years. Prices have been steadily rising since they plunged in late 2008 when the economy collapsed.

But the timing of this fare hike is difficult to defend. The snowstorm this past weekend forced the cancellation of roughly 6,000 flights, resulting in days of chaos and frustration for affected travelers. With airlines and analysts saying it may take the remainder of the week to sort out the mess, it’s surprising, to say the least, to see the airlines raising fares. Some may wonder, fairly, if airlines are trying to capitalize on the sudden desperate demand for flights, but that seems unlikely since displaced travelers are largely rebooking existing travel, not booking new flights.

Still, does anyone at these airlines think about how decisions like this look to the public? It’s pretty cold-hearted to implement a fare hike in the middle of the holidays, even without the context of a massive travel disruption. Why not wait until, I don’t know, next week?

But that’s the airline industry for you, I guess.

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