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Associated Press
U.S. airfares have risen nearly 12 percent, adjusted for inflation, since their low in 2009 during the recession.

Higher cost of flying high

Tickets, fees rising while airlines pare travelers’ options

– The price to board an airliner in the United States has risen for the fourth consecutive year, making it increasingly expensive to fly almost anywhere.

The average domestic round-trip ticket, including tax, reached $363.42 last year, up more than $7 from the prior year, according to an Associated Press analysis of travel data collected from millions of flights throughout the country.

The 2 percent increase outpaced inflation, which stood at 1.5 percent.

Airfares have risen nearly 12 percent since their low in the depths of the recession in 2009, when adjusted for inflation, the analysis showed.

Ticket prices have increased as airlines eliminated unprofitable routes, packed more passengers into planes and merged with one another – leaving travelers with fewer options.

Today, 84 percent of seats are filled with paying passengers, up from 82 percent in 2009.

“Anyone traveling today will know that those flights are full,” said Chuck Thackston, managing director of data and analytics for Airlines Reporting Corp., which processes ticket transactions for airlines, travel agencies and websites such as Expedia and Orbitz.

None of this factors in the extra fees travelers face for checking bags, getting extra legroom or buying a blanket, meal or headphones. The typical traveler pays an additional $50 round-trip to check one suitcase.

Those fees, introduced in 2008 to offset losses from rising fuel prices, now bring in $3.4 billion a year for U.S. airlines and have helped them return consistent annual profits for the past four years.

Airlines pay more than $3 a gallon for jet fuel, up from $1.89 in 2009. An additional $2.7 billion a year is collected in reservation-change fees, with airlines charging up to $200 to revise an itinerary.

“I love to travel, but they’re making it more difficult,” said Brian Kalish, a frequent flier from Arlington, Va.

The AP reviewed data from 6 million annual flights in the U.S., analyzing fees and government on-time records along with fare data from Airlines Reporting Corp.

Jean Medina, spokeswoman for Airlines for America, the airlines’ trade and lobbying group, said that in the long term, fares have not climbed as fast as inflation and that flying “remains a great bargain.”

“It’s a great time to fly,” she said.

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