Airlines have lost a combined $22 billion since 2001 and paid a third more per gallon for fuel in the first quarter of the year and oil had yet to reach $60 per barrel. It's gone up more each month. So what have airlines done to counter this? Cut fares.

It's an illogical system where mechanics, pilots and management are continually feuding over wages, pensions and benefits yet passengers see record level fares. One company quoted in a story by the St. Paul Pioneer Press says its employees are flying for 20 percent less than they did in the fourth quarter of 2004.

In many instances, low-cost start-up carriers are keeping fares low. Regional jets serving unserved airports and cutting into the bread-and-butter routes are forcing major carriers to meet their fares.

The airlines' troubles are threatening to send more of them into bankruptcy. Others may follow the lead of United and US Airways and dump their underfunded pension plans into the government's lap. A few more of those and taxpayers may be asked to bail out the agency that guarantees the plans. Those fares won't look so good when passengers are assessed a surcharge to bail the plans out.

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