Fate of U.S. airlines gets more dire by the day

The combination of the economy and high energy prices is threatening the U.S. airline industry in a way it has not been threatened since crude traded above $100 and pushed jet fuel prices to exorbitant levels.

Jet fuel fell as oil dropped below $40 in the early part of this year, but its price is up at least 50% since then. The economic slowdown has emptied planes of passengers and most of the large companies in the industry are cutting back routes and employees again. That may not be enough to save firms, including American Airlines (AMR) and United Airlines (UAUA), from large and unsustainable losses.