Expect airfares to keep rising

WASHINGTON – UAL Corp.’s United Airlines raised its domestic fares by $5 to $10 each way on Friday, a move expected to be matched by competitors as the industry battles to offset soaring fuel costs.

JP Morgan airline analyst Jamie Baker said he expected United’s rivals to follow suit over the weekend, marking the sixth such move for the major carriers since the year began.

Fare hikes are sticking this year in part because there are fewer empty seats than last year as demand picks up and airlines reduce their flying capacity.

Statistics maintained by the Air Transport Association, a Washington-based trade group, show carriers taking in 12 percent more revenue on a per-passenger, per-mile basis. But at the same time, carriers are paying $1.84, or 30 percent more than a year ago, for every gallon of jet fuel.

United, based in Elk Grove Village, Ill., bumped up its fares by $5 each way in markets where it competes with discount carriers other than Southwest Airlines Co., while adding $5 to $10 to one-way tickets in other markets, depending on distance, said spokeswoman Robin Urbansky.

Spokespeople for AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, Northwest Airlines Corp. and US Airways Corp. said their companies were evaluating the United fare increase. Delta Air Lines Inc. did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

On Thursday, Atlanta-based Delta, which is operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, raised surcharges on its trans-Atlantic fares by $10 each way to offset higher fuel costs.

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