Passenger advocates knock airlines for increasing fares

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A group that advocates for airline passengers is criticizing U.S. carriers for increasing flight prices in the new year. 

The Washington, D.C.-based Travelers' Voice group said the fare increases are an "industry wide-money grab," citing an Associated Press report that U.S. airlines have increased prices for domestic flights by about $6 this year. 

"Even with an unprecedented investigation into anti-competitive practices and price collusion currently underway, this week's airline fare increase reinforces what travelers already feel about the airlines: it's us versus them," Travelers’ Voice Executive Director Trey Bohn said in a statement. 

"While it is still unclear what prompted the industry-wide money grab, we can safely bet these nickel-and-dime tactics are one New Year's resolution the airlines intend to keep," Bohn continued. "Travelers want and expect more value and choice in their travel planning — not a seemingly endless maze of fine print and frivolous fees they must negotiate to find the best deal." 

Consumer protection groups have complained for years about airline ticket prices. The Department of Justice is investigating whether airlines are colluding to keep fares artificially high after a string of mergers has greatly consolidated the industry.

Airlines have denied the collusion allegations.  

The group lobbying for most major airlines, Airlines for America, said the passenger advocacy group was off base in its criticism of pricing tactics in the aviation industry. 

"Air travel remains one of the best consumer bargains out there,"  the airline group said in a statement that was provided to The Hill. 

"Customers today are able to choose among carriers and to select the best service offerings, amenities and price combinations to meet their individual needs," the group continued. "Airlines receive feedback from their customers every day about what choices they want and which products they value." 

The airline group said airfares are determined by a variety of factors, including U.S. fuel prices. 

"As with any consumer product, it’s the marketplace that ultimately determines the price, rather than the cost of any one input," the group said. 

"Fuel remains one of airlines’ largest and most volatile expenses, and now, six-and-a-half years after the recession, airlines are finally achieving average U.S. corporate profitability," the group continued. "As airlines are key drivers of jobs and economic growth, improving finances have further accelerated their investments in people, products and technology to enhance the travel experience for customers."