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Travel groups call on Congress to review state of airline competition

The last time Congress convened a panel to look into competition and antitrust issues in the airline industry, carriers TWA, Northwest Airlines and America West were still operating.

That was more than 20 years ago, and a coalition of travel organizations thinks it's about time for another review, especially because mergers and bankruptcies have put control of more than 70% of domestic travel in the U.S. in the hands of four major carriers.

“The time has come to reexamine the state of competition in the U.S. domestic and international air travel marketplace,” says a letter to four key members of Congress from a coalition that represents online travel agents, hotel operators and airport managers, among others.

The group complains that fliers have fewer choices at some hub airports and service has been cut to many smaller airports.

Delta Air Lines, for example, carries about 74% of all passengers out of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and Southwest Airlines flies 95% of passengers out of Chicago Midway International Airport, federal data show.

At Memphis International Airport, the number of flight departures has dropped by almost half in the last eight years, according to federal statistics.

Airlines say there is no need for a congressional study because fares are low and airlines are investing heavily in new planes and remodeled terminals, primarily because of cheap fuel costs and high demand for flights.

“The fact that demand is strong shows that passengers are making the connection between a healthy airline industry and a better flying experience,” said Vaughn Jennings, a spokesman for Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation's airlines.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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