What Goes Up, Should Come Down

Car bomb, Kirkuk, Iraq, Feb. 17, 2007
Iraqi firefighters put out a burning car after two bomb blasts in Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2007.

There are plenty of obvious reasons why flying has become more aggravating. But how about one that no traveler can see, and few even know about?

You won't see it on any ticket, but for the last two years nearly all major carriers have added a fuel surcharge of up to $40 per round-trip. It was put in place to offset rising fuel costs when oil began its climb to more than $30 a barrel. The surcharge is still there, even though oil is now less than $20 a barrel, reports CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod.

"What the airlines can't afford right now is perception problems. And this is perceived as the airlines are not being honest or straight with the people," said Terry Trippler, an airline consumer advocate.

Several major hotel chains eliminated similar energy charges. But the airlines, facing staggering financial pressures, have kept theirs in place.

One woman was asked if she thinks it's a problem if the airlines get another $40 a ticket to cover their operating costs.

"As long as they're honest about it. I don't want the airlines to go out of business, I don't think anyone does, but I would rather they do it in an honest way," she said.

What do the airlines say? None of the major carriers CBS News contacted would talk on camera. But according to an airline trade group, while the price of oil has come down, the fuel surcharge wasn't just for fuel after all — because the extra money helps pay for other growing costs: like labor.

"Yes, fuel is a fixed price. So is the cost of labor and everything else. I mean, are the airlines going to have a food "uncharge" because they started to take away all the meals? I doubt it," explained Trippler.

"They seem to be saying 'We put in this surcharge, now we'll keep passing it through and people won't notice it'," said Jenna Kern-Rugile, a consumer.

She isn't talking about airline tickets, she's upset about a $5 fuel surcharge on her electric bill. Many power plants run on oil and her company, Long Island Power, like others, says its customers are paying now for last year's higher fuel costs.

"Our surcharge kind of lags the prices so that we're not raising and lowering people's bill every single month," explained Long Island Power Chairman Richard Kessel.

Jenna's power company will review the surcharge policy in February. But for people who'd like something similar from the airlines right now, no such luck.

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