TSA defies Congress, duns consumers with increased security fees


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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  • Guest

    This is what big government does for/to you. Do you support big government?

  • $16635417

    Exactly why I do not want government fees and taxes included in the initial quote of an airline ticket. Don’t bury the tax.

  • SoDoYouSki

    Do you realize with these added fees that you won’t be able to determine the actual (total) cost of your flight if you’re comparing direct airline tickets to those that have one or more stops?

  • $16635417

    Yes I do. Is that the fault of an airline or because government fess and taxes are confusing?

  • Novus Ordo

    Nothing prevents airlines to list the base fare, taxes, and total fares separately. The reason this is not done has nothing to do with the government.

  • Novus Ordo

    It’s interesting that the author omits (1) identifying the $28 example cited; and (2) describing what percentage of round trip tickets would be affected by the revised definition.

  • $16635417

    Actually, the airlines are prevented from advertising their base fares, they must display a total that includes the applicable government fees and taxes. This allows the government to increase taxes and consumers are none the wiser. Just the scenario that is described in the article.

  • bub

    That’s not interesting…you just like to hear your lips flap.

  • VELS14

    Try again. This has nothing to do with the size of government, and everything to do with an administrator and agency out of control. They were that way under Bush, and they’ve stayed that way under Obama.

  • VELS14

    There is no regulation which prevents the airlines from listing fees and taxes separately, as long as they also list the total inclusive of the fees and taxes.

  • VELS14

    If you would have either read the prior article referenced in this one, in the past, or have bothered to click on the link to it, you would have seen the examples cited, but not re-detailed here, but I guess that’s just too much trouble for you fingers and mind, as you rather hear yourself spout worthless words.

  • $16635417

    …and that causes the vast majority of the consumer to lose awareness of the tax and allows for scenarios described in the article.

  • Novus Ordo

    It’s interesting that people can’t comment on the factual aspects of a debate without resorting to childish personal attacks.

    So here is the $28 example:
    Newark to Chicago (stopover)
    Chicago to Denver (stopover)
    Denver to Las Vegas (stopover)
    Las Vegas to Chicago (stopover)
    Chicago to San Francisco

    Hmmm…that does not all seem like an absurdly amount of cherry picking.

    Your protestations notwithstanding, neither this article nor the previous one includes any information on what percentage of tickets are affected. Why? Because it is such a tiny amount of tickets, that if the percentage was published, any reasonable reader would rapidly come to the conclusion that this is very much the case of a tempest in a tea cup.

  • Novus Ordo

    You are absolutely wrong. Airlines must advertise the total fare, but they can also show the base fare and the taxes.

  • Novus Ordo

    Why? All they have to do is:

    Base fare: $355
    Govt taxes and fees: $41
    You pay: $396

    Perfectly clear and perfectly legal under current law. The only requirement is that the total fare is visually emphasized so it stands out.

  • $16635417

    I am not “absolutely wrong”. They must advertise the total fare which causes people to not care about the tax allowing them to quietly raise them. In fact, government fees went up today.

    Do you want it to end up like gas, where they there is no disclosure?

  • Marcin Jeske

    While there is an argument to me made that a good portion of the increase is general tax which will not be going to TSA, this idea that just because an expense is paid to the government means that a company can disavow it is ridiculous.

    Essentially, there is now a $5.60 fee for each time you go through security screening… whether that amount is reasonable is hard to say, but it does fix the issue of people with direct flight paying half as much for the same service. (since you don’t go through screening again for a connecting flight).

    Your example of the gas tax… that is very much so part of the cost of gasoline… the external costs on maintenance of roads which use of gas requires, and it is criminally low, having been defined in most states at cents per gallon and not raised or even adjusted for inflation for decades.

    Where does breaking out costs end? Will all businesses start adding on “property tax fees”, “income tax fees”, “license fees”. We already have a select group of businesses that try to obscure the true cost of their services by shifting the bulk of the cost to fees (car rental and “resort” hotels come to mind)… it is a commercial cancer that must be stopped everywhere it appears.

  • Marcin Jeske

    Plus, I think with the $28 dollar example, a passenger will go through TSA screening 5 times, as opposed to once on a typical one-way. If screening is the primary cost that the fee is supposed to cover, then paying 5 times as much for five times as much use seems quite fair.