Comment: The airline industry is in for a bumpy ride

Travel Weekly editor Sarah LongbottomAirlines are facing turbulent times. Rampant fuel prices, massive debt and the economic slump are taking their toll, with some experts predicting airline expansion will be brought to a halt as a result.

Increased ticket prices were inevitable – which makes it all the more astounding that British Airways and Virgin Atlantic thought they could illegally collude in setting fuel surcharges on long-haul fares.

Both airlines have already paid fines and are now making further payouts after a class-action lawsuit settlement was announced in the US, affecting the rights of millions of passengers.

Passengers who travelled long haul between August 2004 and March 2006 will be entitled to claim for a refund on the fuel surcharge paid on their tickets. The amounts might be small – the maximum refund will be £20 return – but it is the principle that counts.

If you have customers who travelled with these carriers during this period, you could do worse than point this out to them.

In other aviation news, the long-running merger talks between Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines look to be nearing an end. Both are reportedly in talks with their combined 11,000 pilots to agree employment terms and conditions before sealing a deal.

Consolidation of the huge network of US carriers is overdue. The US currently does not allow foreign airlines to operate internal flights, but is forcing greater access to Europe for its own carriers. A merger between Delta and Northwest would sow the seeds for change.

Another potential merger, between United Airlines and Continental, would create an even bigger airline than Delta-Northwest. This would mean more frequencies and wider membership of frequent flyer schemes.

Fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be an interesting ride.

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