NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- It's salad days for major U.S. airlines but they're still hungry for more.
Low fuel prices have been a windfall for carriers like United Continental (UAL), Delta Airlines (DAL), American Airlines (AAL), JetBlue (JBLU) and their shareholders. As the price of their largest cost has gone down, that of tickets for air travelers has not, meaning that these companies have been able to line their pockets with cheap fuel profits. The cost of jet fuel has fallen more than 40% worldwide compared to a year ago and even New York Senator Chuck Schumer has found it confounding that airline prices have remained stubbornly high.
What's more -- and this is truly galling -- airlines are now asking the government to squash competition from foreign competitors that they accuse of being subsidized.
Airlines and the unions that represent their workers are asking the Obama administration to renegotiate international trade agreements with the goal of limiting competition on flights to and from American cities to regions like South Asia. These "open skies" agreements ensure that airlines around the world have relatively low barriers to doing business across borders, meaning more passenger and cargo air travel, according to the U.S. Department of State.
Domestic players contend that several foreign airlines, such as Emirates, Etihad Airlines and Qatar Airways, are being heavily subsidized by United Arab Emirates and Qatar and that these agreements should be amended to reflect this unfair advantage. U.S. pilot unions, including the Air Line Pilots Association that backs Delta and United pilots, have chimed in, saying the subsidies are "massive." The Persian Gulf carriers deny the charge.
If the allegations are true, to the casual reader this may resemble an uneven playing field, but as Roger Dow, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, pointed out recently the three largest U.S. airlines have been helped enough by the federal government over the years. In Dow's words "playing the subsidy card strains credulity in the extreme."
Also, consider that the open skies agreements have mechanisms in place to resolve legitimate fair competition disputes.