updated 7/22/2009 12:14:04 PM ET 2009-07-22T16:14:04

Hard-hit European airlines said Wednesday that airport fee hikes are hurting their ability to weather the economic crisis as passenger numbers plunge.

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The Association of European Airlines said airports "could do with a reality check" when they increase the fees each passenger must pay on top of their air fares. This is holding back airlines' ability to boost travel with lower prices, it said.

The group — which represents major carriers such as British Airways and Lufthansa — said German airports are leading the charge with higher fees at Frankfurt and Munich and others are reconsidering fee freezes.

"Customers are struggling to survive in the current market and the very last thing they need is a cost increase," said the AEA's Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus.

Europe's busiest airport London Heathrow is also planning to increase fees to pay for new infrastructure and to cope with the recession-driven drop in air traffic. Copenhagen will reinstate fee increases by the end of 2009.

Low-cost carrier Ryanair — not an AEA member — blamed higher fees at British airports for a decision to trim flights next winter.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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