By Humphrey Carter
BALEARIC consumer groups are furious with the Spanish airlines which have announced hefty increases in air fares because of the fuel price crisis. The Balearic government is warning that inter-island flights tariffs, which are a public service, can not be tinkered with by airlines feeling the pinch.

Spanish flag carrier Iberia was the first to announce an increase in air fares and the airline has now been followed by Air Europa and Spaniar, the country's three main airlines.

But yesterday, consumer associations in the Balearics which are fighting tooth and nail for the increases in resident flights discounts, slammed the air fare hike.

Travellers flying with Iberia to the mainland can expect to pay at least an extra five euros, while passengers flying to London, for example, could find an extra nine euros being added onto their fares.

Air Europa say that they are still “evaluating” the situation before confirming the increases. But airline sources revealed yesterday that it will be five euros on domestic flights, seven on short-haul and 15 euros for long haul.

Spanair will, from this week, be adding an extra five euros on to their domestic flight air fares “in line with other main European airlines,” the company said.

Last week the “big three” claimed that they would try to maintain air fares, despite the runaway price of fuel. Air Europa added on an extra two and four euros to ticket prices in August while, back in May, Spanair slapped an extra three and six euros on theirs in a bid to try and off-set fuel costs.

Consumer groups in Palma described the moves as “unfair and unjustified” and accused the airlines of merely trying to cash in on the current fuel crisis.

A spokesperson for Nuredduna consumer watchdog said that a major increase in air fares has been expected “but what is not acceptable is that while here in the Balearics we continue to pay the highest domestic air fares, the quality of servive provided on board continues to decline. The airlines have stressed they need to compete with the low-cost airlines, but none of them have lowered their prices.” The association also expressed its sincere doubt that Iberia will honour its pledge and return air fares to normal once the fuel crisis is over and prices have stabilised.

Balearic Minister for Transport, Mabel Cabrer, admitted that the five euro hike in air fares is “bad news.” She also warned the airlines that the Transport Ministry will not permit any increases in inter-island air fares because they are a public service.
She said the air transport commission will hold its first meeting since the general elections back in March. The Balearic government is going to push ahead with its demands for the resident flights discount to be increased to 50 percent and for inter-island air fares to be capped at 58 euros one way. “In the meantime, we're watching the airlines,” she said in Minorca yesterday.

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