The airline industry's poor financial health could get even worse and, unless fuel prices fall or airfares rise, more furloughs and wage concessions are likely, according to testimony airline executives plan to present to Congress on June 3 2004. Chief executives from six airlines will offer members of a House transportation committee the latest snapshot of the industry's woes. They are expected to reiterate concerns about the high costs of security, taxes and war risk insurance, and emphasize the threat that rising fuel poses to the industry's nascent recovery. Gordon Bethune, the CEO of Continental Airlines and one of the executives testifying on Thursday, will describe the industry's financial condition as "perilous, and the skies are only getting darker," according to prepared testimony obtained by The Associated Press. "All-time high oil prices and the ever-increasing burden of government taxes and fees are killing the industry." "Unless fuel prices abate, or the revenue environment improves, we will have to furlough employees and seek wage and benefit concessions," Bethune warns. "We may also have to reduce our pension funding." The run-up in oil prices has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of additional jet fuel costs for several carriers in 2004. In light of this fact, the industry has routinely criticized the Bush adminination's policy of filling the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve of oil at a time when each barrel costs nearly $40, saying that extra demand has helped keep fuel prices high.

Readers of Travel+Leisure magazine have recognized Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines as "Top Domestic Airline for Service" for 2004. The magazine's subscribers annually select the world's best services and places, and have named Midwest Airlines the top service provider both years this award has been given. Midwest Airlines topped the domestic airline category with a score of 79.90. Runners-up were:

* JetBlue Airways (78.57)

* Alaska Airlines (67.33)

* Southwest Airlines (66.89)

* Hawaiian Airlines (64.79).

A list of the winners in the hotel, cruise line and international airline categories can be found at http://www.travelandleisure.com and in the June issue of Travel+Leisure, now available on newsstands. Rankings are based on reader evaluations collected in the 2003 World's Best Awards Survey. For airlines, scores are indexed averages of evaluations for the characteristics "customer service" and "inflight service." Scores were rounded to the nearest hundredth of a point.

The Travel Industry Association of America says the U.S. should be prepared for long lines, delays and gridlock this summer, when it expects leisure travel to rise by 3.2 percent from last summer. Suzanne Cook, TIA's senior vice president of research, says, "For the first time in years, the summer travel season will start off with a bang, and we expect it to stay strong through August." Consumers, however, are concerned with rising prices of travel. But Sandra Hughes, vice president of AAA Travel...

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