A doubling of the fuel surcharge tacked on to most tickets by American Airlines and other carriers appeared to flop, the second straight unsuccessful effort by airlines to boost the fee.
American last week raised its fuel surcharge to $40 from $20 for many round trip flights, and over the weekend other carriers went along. But by Monday, Northwest Airlines Corp. had began a gradual retreat, which forced other airlines to also drop the fee, according to analysts who watch air fares.
American, Delta Air Lines Inc., US Airways Group Inc., UAL Corp.'s United Airlines and Continental Airlines Inc. also rolled back their surcharges to the old $20 level in prices that showed up in reservation systems Tuesday, said Rick Seaney, chief executive of FareCompare.com.
Seaney said a combination of an uncertain outlook for air travel demand and selective surcharge hikes by airlines such as Continental made it hard for the increase to stick.
American said last week that it needed to increase the surcharge to cover the higher cost of jet fuel. The company said 33 cents of every dollar it takes in goes to pay for fuel, and that higher fuel costs may have made the difference between a profit and the loss that AMR reported for the fourth quarter.
Two weeks ago, United started an increase of the surcharge to $50 for most round trips within the United States. That one too failed after some carriers imposed the increase on only a limited number of flights.
When one carrier cuts fares or drops an increase, other airlines usually rush to match the move rather than risk giving competitors a price advantage.
The recent increases generally did not apply to routes also flown by low-cost carriers such as Southwest Airlines Co., which are generally more reluctant to boost fees.