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Airlines passengers cope with fuel prices

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NEW YORK (6/30/08)--Cheap travel options are dwindling as the prices at the pump continue to rise. Airlines are feeling the gas pinch as well, and soaring fuel prices have prompted them to implement drastic changes in flying policies, airfare prices and flight availabilities (The New York Times June 19). Some airlines implementing “a la carte pricing” now ask passengers to pay for checked luggage, on-flight headsets and non-alcoholic beverages--items that once were included in the price of the ticket. Additionally, many airlines have plans to ground planes, reduce the number of flights, and eliminate or restrict some services, all in an attempt to manage the gas squeeze. But just how much do airlines actually spend on fuel? While four years ago fuel comprised about 10% to 20% of the ticket price, today more than half of the ticket price translates to fuels costs on many routes (The Wall Street Journal June 10). This provides a small margin for airlines to cover numerous other maintenance fees, leaving them to scramble for new ways to squeeze pennies from passengers. With rapid changes in airline policies, there are things you can do to help soften the blow:
* Be prepared. Burkhalter Travel, Madison, Wis., recommends always checking your carrier’s website for current baggage policies. You’ll have fewer surprises when checking in at the airport. Find airline and airport websites at oag.com/northamerica/airlineandairport/airlinedirectory1.asp. * Pack light, pack smart. Eliminate unnecessary items to avoid heavy baggage fees. Substitute a paperback for a hardcover. Wear heavier clothing such as sweaters, coats, jeans, and tennis shoes, and pack your lighter clothing. Find a light suitcase; suitcases with handles and wheels weigh more than those without. Pack light and weigh your suitcase before you head to the airport to save money. * Use your carry-on. While size restrictions exist, few airlines have weight limits for carry-on bags. For short trips, pack light and omit checked baggage. This will save you the $15 charge on United, US Airways, and American Airlines. Manage bulky items by using compression bags, packing folders, or carry-ons with compartments. * Do your research. Search airline websites, use flight search engines and consult travel agents. They can help you find the cheapest days of the week to fly, airlines offering lower fares, and other money saving tips.
For more information, read “Ten Ways to Avoid Airline Flight Delays,” in Home & Family Resource Center.