Airfare up due to high fuel price

Local commuters already reeling over pumping gas for around $4 per gallon might not want to check airfare prices anytime soon.

With fuel prices at record highs, San Francisco International Airport’s most popular airlines hiked fares as much as $50 recently, and analysts expect most other carriers to follow suit.

United Airlines, which flew 42 percent of SFO’s 26 million passengers last year, recently increased round-trip fares between $4 and $50, depending on trip length. A United flight from SFO to New York — the airport’s second-most popular destination — jumped $50. Officials said jet fuel costs rose 30 percent last month and the cost to fill up a United 747 was $173,000 as of late last week. Fuel is the largest expense for flights.

Continental Airlines, the fifthmost popular airline at SFO, also recently hiked fares as much as $50. Northwest Airlines already reportedly decided to raise ticket prices Monday. Two of the other top five carriers — Delta and American airlines — also matched the $50 maximum increases, said Rick Seany, chief executive for farecompare.com, which receives eight daily updates on fare prices directly from airlines.

“These [fuel] costs have to be passed onto the customers; there’s no other way to do it,” United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said.

“It’s pretty much an unprecedented increase,” Seany said. “It’s going to be bad for a while.”

To save on costs, fliers should try to buy tickets for flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and during nonpeak hours, Seany said.

The increased fares should result in a substantial reduction in leisure travel, said Robert Mann, a New York-based aviation analyst. SFO patron and United passenger Mike Smith would agree.

“I usually fly for business quite often — but with family flights, yes, [the increased fares] would be a deterrent,” Smith said at SFO Monday.

Smith also noted that United and four of the five most popular SFO carriers have also recently begun charging more for extra and overweight luggage, or allowing passengers to check fewer bags for free.

Two low-cost carriers at SFO — JetBlue Airways and Southwest Airlines — are reportedly not going to be increasing ticket prices.

“Simply because another airline increases fares isn’t a reason for us to do so,” JetBlue spokesman Bryan Baldwin said.

Some airlines have discussed laying off employees or retiring older aircraft as a way of offsetting rising fuel costs. Airlines have also begun raising fuel surcharge fees on passengers’ tickets.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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