TSA has decided to defy the will of Congress, airline consumers and the aviation community as it implements the collection of the recently increased 9/11 Security Fee.

Since November 2013 Travelers United, together with Airlines for America and other industry stakeholders, have been battling against an increase in the 9/11 Security Fee.

Despite opposition from the travel industry, unions and consumers, budget negotiators working on the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 decided to more than double the basic TSA security fees imposed on travelers at airports. What was once a $2.50 fee with a cap of two fees per one-way trip, became a flat fee of $5.60 for every one-way trip and, according to Congress, $11.20 for every round trip.

But, TSA wasn’t happy with that compromise. They, or their handlers at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), wanted even more. Some clever bureaucrat noticed that the definition of “round trip” had not been codified. So, TSA, in a back-and-forth with airlines, labor unions and consumers, presented a new system for assessing the freshly increased taxes.

These discussions were detailed in a previous Consumer Traveler article, complete with charts about the creative way that TSA envisioned assessing this fee. Basically, TSA’s interpretation of the new law and budget presented an opportunity for TSA to get into travelers’ wallets as well as peering and feeling beneath their clothing.

The prior round-trip maximum of $10 could jump to $28 in one scenario presented by TSA as their fee collection plans unfolded.

At this point, Travelers United joined with Airlines for America and sent a letter to Administrator Pistole urging him to follow the same rules that were applied to the security fee collections prior to the increase in fees.

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.

TSA’s proposed changes will result in passengers paying more than Congress intended and also require significant programmatic changes that will take at least 90 days to develop and test. This change will disproportionately hurt consumers from small and rural communities who must often use more one-way trips to reach their final destination. Given the timing and the arbitrary nature of these proposed changes, A4A and [Travelers United, formerly] the Consumer Travel Alliance will use all resources at our disposal to ensure passengers are not being subject to unjust fees.

The consumer and airline groups also asked Congress to send a letter informing TSA of their intent as they crafted the budget agreement. Senator Patty Murray and Representative Paul Ryan both signed this extraordinary letter to Administrator Pistole.

That letter, sent on May 6, 2014, stated in no uncertain terms:

As the authors of this legislation in the House and Senate … There is nothing about the language modification that reflects an indication to change the overall cap for air transportation fees. … The simplification was in terms of the “per enplanement” structure, not the removal of the cap.

The two architects of the budget compromise went on to say they were “troubled” by TSA plans for imposition of the fees based on TSA interpretation of the bill. They end by saying, “…we ask that you outline and cite the specific statutory authority that permits this interpretation of the law.”

Today, both Airlines for America and Travelers United learned that TSA is planning on moving forward with their own interpretation of the Bipartisan Budget Act despite consumer and industry pleadings and the clear intent of Congress sent to TSA by the top negotiator of the budget bill.

Should TSA be allowed to defy Congress and collect extra fees?

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