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    Surely Congress Would Know Better Than to Hurt Airlines. No?

    Those baggage fees, cramped seats and tiny pretzel bags to the contrary and notwithstanding, airline passengers enjoyed good times in 2012, according to an annual recap from Airlines for America, the industry trade group.

    Last year was good because no U.S. commercial airline crashed, nearly 82 percent of flights arrived on time and only about three bags were mishandled for every 1,000 domestic passengers. Back in 2007, only 73.4 percent of flights were on time and seven bags were lost for every 1,000 travelers. Average fares ticked up, but only by a few dollars. Adjusting for inflation, domestic fares are actually down 15 percent from 2000.

    Unfortunately for airline shareholders, 2012 brought another profit nosedive.

    At a briefing today for journalists, John Heimlich, the group's chief economist, clicked through grim slides: Jet fuel hit a record $3.06-per-gallon average. In the 2001-2005 era, the price averaged roughly a dollar. Because of the big jumps in fuel prices, the carriers barely made money.

    "U.S. airlines eked out another year of meager profitability as expenses grew faster than revenues — with record-setting fuel prices serving as the primary driver," Heimlich said. Last year, the ten largest airlines reported a combined profit of $152 million, or just 21 cents per passenger. That compared with a profit of 77 cents per passenger in 2011, and $3.18 in 2010, he said.

    So far, 2013 isn't looking very encouraging: jet fuel was averaging $3.26 a gallon last week.

    And on March 1, the federal government will start enacting automatic spending cuts that could furlough air-traffic controllers and checkpoint security officers.

    Dan Elwell, the group's senior vice president, said the carriers have not yet gotten many details from the Transportation Department about what will happen as the cuts kick in, but he said he didn't think government officials would allow the budget process to hurt the already battered airline industry. Why? Because a healthy air transport system is "too important," the optimist said.

    Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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    He Died At 32, But A Young Artist Lives On In LA's Underground Museum

    When Noah Davis founded the museum, he wanted to bring world-class art to a neighborhood he likened to a food desert, meaning no grocery stores or museums. Davis died a year ago Monday.
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    The Strange, Twisted Story Behind Seattle's Blackberries

    Those tangled brambles are everywhere in the city, the legacy of an eccentric named Luther Burbank whose breeding experiments with crops can still be found on many American dinner plates.
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    State Taxes, School Budgets And The Quality Of Public Education

    Budget cutbacks have made it impossible for many states to finance their public schools. But some have bucked the trend by increasing taxes and earmarking those funds for education. Taxes, spending and the quality of public education.

    NPR

    Listen: 'Web Site Story,' NPR's Musical About The Internet — From 1999

    Found in our archives: an Internet-themed remake of West Side Story from the dot-com bubble era. It begins with Bill Gates and features the sound of a modem but isn't as obsolete as you might expect.

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