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Airline Fuel Surcharges Looking Up--and Up

September 17, 2000

The bad news: Airline "fuel surcharges" are doubling. The good news: More airlines are being upfront about them.

Major airlines this month imposed a second round of so-called fuel surcharges on fares amid soaring petroleum prices. After pressure from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), consumer advocates and travel agents, however, more appeared to be wrapping the charge into regular fares in advertisements and quotes to customers, instead of tacking it on separately as some did when the surcharges were introduced.

The new charge, $10 one way or $20 round trip, is on top of an identical charge imposed by most of the majors in January, bringing the total to $20 one way, $40 round trip. A notable exception to the new charge was Southwest Airlines, which was holding off as of last week.

The American Society of Travel Agents, which denounced the earlier airline surcharges when they were listed separately from fares, had a milder response this time.

Ed Perkins, ASTA's consumer advocate, called the surcharges an "understandable move," explaining: "Look, nobody likes it, but we all have the experience of paying 20 to 25 cents more at the pump." He added that "any time they list it [the fuel surcharge] as a separate item, as far as I'm concerned, it's deceptive."

The DOT last week e-mailed airlines reminding them that fuel surcharges "must be included in the advertised base price" and in fares listed in computerized reservation systems. Northwest Airlines and US Airways, which as late as February said they were listing surcharges separately from fares, said last week that they no longer do so. A United Airlines spokesman, however, said a typical caller will "probably" find that reservations agents initially omit the surcharge in general inquiries, then notify the customer before final purchase. (United is not imposing the surcharge in its current round of sale fares.)

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