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Sticker shock for travelers as airfares climb

In the 10 years they have been together, Charissa Benjamin and her Serbian husband have always flown from their home in Washington to spend the winter holidays in the warmth of her native Antigua.

But with the lowest economy-class fare this year advertised at about $1,500 — more than twice the $700 she paid in 2009 — Benjamin is considering ringing in 2011 with her husband’s family in decidedly chillier Belgrade. Flights there cost half as much as those to the Caribbean.

As Benjamin and others have been discovering in recent months, airfares in most of the world are on the rise as the global economy picks up and demand for air travel climbs, particularly for business trips. Airlines, meanwhile, have been reluctant to add more flights to meet that growing demand. That is increasing pressure on ticket prices and making for packed planes and longer standby lines as the year-end travel season approaches.

This has been a boon, of course, for an industry that is expected to roar back into profit this year, to the tune of $8.9 billion. That comes after airlines collectively lost nearly $26 billion during the previous two years, according to the International Air Transport Association, an airline industry group. Many of the world’s leading airlines are reporting that the three-month period ending Sept. 30 was one of their most profitable quarters in years.

The degree of sticker shock varies significantly by region and by class of seat, with fares on some routes still at or below those of a year ago, despite some large increases in traffic.

Floods in Haiti raise fear of cholera’s spread

Three medical workers arrived at a clinic near here over the weekend on a mission to deliver supplies and spread the word about preventing a deadly cholera outbreak from getting worse after the torrential rains brought by Hurricane Tomas.

What they found was a locked gate, a 3-year-old boy with unrelenting diarrhea being cradled in his father’s arms and a gathering crowd of others waiting to get in.

Several of them said, yes, they drank water from a river known to be contaminated with the cholera-causing bacteria. And, no, they don’t always have money to buy bottled water.

The cholera outbreak, which has killed more than 500 people and sickened more than 7,000 in the past 2 1/2 weeks, is largely confined to this region of rice paddies and small settlements, where the water has long provided life and livelihood.

But after several inches of rain fell as Hurricane Tomas passed Friday, health authorities are racing to keep people from drinking unsanitary water, particularly here, where the Artibonite River is known to be contaminated with the disease.

At the public hospital in nearby Petite Riviere, the number of cholera cases has risen since Friday, after trailing off during the week. But doctors said it was too soon to say whether the increase was an anomaly or a sign that the epidemic may worsen with the flooding.

There were also several reports that new cases were suspected in far-flung areas of Haiti, including several cases under investigation Monday in the capital, Port-au-Prince, raising concern that the disease may have spread there.

The city’s overcrowded earthquake survivor camps and unsanitary conditions could promote the disease. But previously, the only cases confirmed in the capital were among people who had traveled from areas already affected.

Surges in suspected cases are common, as people confuse common diarrhea with cholera, which is much worse and can quickly dehydrate and kill its victims if untreated.

Randal C. Archibold, The New York Times ST. DENIS, Haiti