If you’ve been reading some of the columns here (TSA fees jump more than 100% today), or recently purchased an airplane ticket for US travel, you know TSA (Transportation Security Administration) is charging an increased security fee. It’s a steep increase, made larger by TSA’s implementation of the fee’s new authorization.
Along with the amount of the security fee increase and its implementation, how the federal government is using more than half the fee is also a problem.
Before we get to its use, let’s discuss the fees and TSA’s interpretation of their authorization.
The TSA security fee, otherwise known as the “9/11 Security Fee” had been $2.50 per enplanement, or segment. The fee was capped to a maximum of $5.00 per one-way trip, or $10 per round trip.
If you’re flying one way or round trip on a direct non-stop flight, the fee change is exactly as expected. The one way fee would be $5.60 and the round trip fee $11.20.
After that, the old fee structure and the new one significantly diverge. The hitches are how TSA defined one way trips when travelers have a layover, and TSA’s decision that the new law no longer includes a capped fee.
TSA defines a one way flight as an uninterrupted flight, or one which has a stopover of less than four hours (12 hours between a domestic flight and an international flight or two international flights). When you have longer layovers, each segment is considered a separate one way flight and each one way flight requires another $5.60 fee payment. The more long stopovers you have, the more times you owe the $5.60 fee for your trip.
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The new TSA 9/11 security fee structure can definitely affect passengers flying connecting flights. On budget airlines, it’s not particularly unusual for passengers to encounter long layovers. If you fly round trip with a layover each way lasting more than four hours, the trip will have four $5.60 fees assessed, totaling $22.40.
If you’re flying to Europe from the US’ west coast, and come into your east coast airport in the morning for your evening flight to Europe, that will cost you two $5.60 fees, not one.
In a joint letter about the 9/11 security fee increase, Senator Patty Murray, Senate Budget Chairperson, and Representative Paul Ryan, Congressional Budget Chairperson, said to John S. Pistole, TSA Administrator,
“As the authors of this legislation in the House and Senate, our intent in drafting this provision was to help the federal government recover a greater share of TSA’s operating costs, consistent with the manner in which the fee had operated previously, i.e. with a cap on a round-trip that was twice the maximum one-way fee. The Committee Print of the legislation, made public before House or Senate consideration, explained that ‘Section 601 simplifies the fee structure to a flat $5.60 per one-way trip, regardless of the number of enplanements.’”
Senator Murray and Representative Ryan were clear the fee was to be calculated without regard to segments and enplanements. One way trips were to be capped at $5.60 and round trips at $11.20.
Decide for yourself what Sec. 601. Aviation Security Service Fees (b) means, which states,
“(c) LIMITATION ON FEE.—Fees imposed under subsection (a) (1) shall be $5.60 per one-way trip in air transportation or intrastate air transportation that originates at an airport in the United States.”
Personally, I read the law as imposing a fee of $5.60 each way, for a total of $11.20 for a round trip by air, regardless of the layover times between connecting flights.
There is another troubling issue about the new security fee. It has nothing to do with TSA’s methodology.
Despite Senator Murray’s and Representative Ryan’s explanation in their letter to Administrator Pistole that the fee increase is to “help the federal government recover a greater share of TSA’s operating costs,” most of the revenue from the fee goes into the general fund of the US Treasury, not to TSA.
For example, according to estimates from TSA, the security fee increase will generate additional revenue of $322 million during 2014; $122 million to TSA for cost recovery and $200 million to the US Treasury general fund to help reduce the governmental deficit. Therefore, most of the security fee is actually a new deficit reduction tax, akin to a national sales tax, selectively imposed solely on air travelers.
The airlines are suing TSA over the new passenger ticket security fees, calling them illegal. Air travelers should be writing their Senators and Representatives asking them to support the airline industry in this suit and demanding they eliminate the selective air traveler deficit reduction tax.
What do you think?