Earlier this year, Travelers United learned that the new September 11th Security Fee implementation would result in a far greater financial burden to travelers.

Instead of merely increasing the fee from $2.50 to $5.60 for passengers flying on non-stop flights, those flying on multi-stop flights would see the security fee increase from $5 to $5.60. The TSA had essentially redefined a round-trip.

In doing so, the TSA has opened the door to even more dramatic increases in security fees.

Together with Airlines for America (A4A), Travelers United sent a letter to TSA urging them to return to the previous method of determining round trip travel — when a trip started and ended at the same point. The interpretation that has been used since the original imposition of the security fee means that the maximum security fee that can be imposed is $11.20.

The new TSA interpretation of a round-trip now means that security fees may increase as much as 180 percent under the new tax bill just passed by Congress.

In our letter to TSA, A4A and Travelers United noted:

Currently, the Passenger Fee is assessed on a per-enplanement basis of $2.50 with a maximum one-way trip fee of $5 or $10 per round-trip itinerary. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 (PL 113-67) simplified the fee structure, creating a flat $5.60 fee per one-way trip, effective July 1, 2014, regardless of the number of enplanements. By moving away from the per-enplanement application, Congress merely streamlined the administration of the fee without making sweeping changes to the current regulatory regime.

Despite the minor congressional modifications to the Passenger Fee, TSA is proposing radical changes to the regulatory regime. Specifically, the Office of Revenue has suggested eliminating the definition of round trip found in 49 CFR § 1510.3. More troubling still is TSA’s scheme to overhaul the regulatory imposition of the Passenger Fee described in 49 CFR § 1510.5 and abandon 10 years of industry precedent.

The following examples show how a change in the definition of a round-trip by TSA changes what was once considered three round-trips into six round-trips under the new rules; what was considered one round-trip becomes 5 one-way trips. The final definition would result, in some scenarios, in a 180 percent increase in the security fee rather than a simple doubling of the fee.

In an email to A4A, TSA outlined several flight packages and provided their interpretations of how the security fee would be applied under the new budget act.

To best illustrate the new limitation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) September 11th Security Fee (Passenger Fee) that was established by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, TSA provides the examples below to indicate the imposition of the Passenger Fee under two structures. Under current regulation, the amount of the security service fee is set at $2.50 per enplanement, with a maximum of $5.00 per one-way trip and a maximum of $10.00 per round trip. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 amends 49 U.S.C. 44940(c) to impose a new limitation of $5.60 per one-way trip.

One-way trip is “continuous travel from a point to a different point, during which a stopover does not occur.” There may be multiple one-way trips on the same air travel itinerary. Stopover is “a break in travel of more than four (4) hours between two (2) domestic flights or twelve (12) hours between a domestic and an international flight or two international flights.” These definitions were proposed by the industry in 2002, were adopted by TSA, and continue to apply.

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Both A4A and Travelers United are awaiting TSA’s final guidance that hopefully will reflect the long-standing round-trip interpretations that will save passengers from unintended consequences and extra financial burdens of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.