Airlines lose $552 million in 1Q, better than ’12

NEW YORK — U.S. airlines say they improved their financial performance in the first quarter, although they still lost money in what is traditionally the year’s toughest travel period.

The airlines lost $552 million — or $3.30 per passenger — in the first three months compared with a loss of $1.7 billion a year earlier, as travel slowed after the holidays.

Airlines have been making a concerted effort to get their costs under control, said John Heimlichm chief economists for Airlines for America, the industry’s lobbying group.

That’s a big challenge. Fuel accounts for more than a third of the airlines’ costs and is largely out of their control. Airlines were able to lower debt and interest payments, Heimlichm said, but the biggest gains came from increasing airfares and charging more in fees.

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