Sunday musings: Cell phone theft can be stopped, raising air travel taxes, vacation domestically


Get your thinking caps on. Did you know? IPhones can be disabled if stolen. President Obama is asking for more aviation and travel taxes. These new taxes will make flying more taxed than liquor and other sin taxes. Finally, look at domestic vacations where airfares have dropped.

Apple and others could stop smartphone theft. Here’s why they don’t

This is a little-known scandal. Smart phone companies can disable stolen phones. They do it in Europe, but they don’t do it here at home. And now smart phone thefts are some of the most prevalent reported thefts according to police departments.

It’s time that the smart phone manufacturers put a kill switch in their phones so that stolen phones are not useful to thieves. It is easy. They do it in other parts of the world. Let’s do it here. It is the right thing to do.

In Europe and Australia, stolen phones can be permanently “blacklisted” by carriers, making them useless, at least in their home countries. In the United States, this wasn’t possible until April 2012, when lawmakers lobbied the four largest US cell carriers — Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint — to develop a plan to disable stolen phones.

A year later, not much has changed, as the New York Times documented today. That’s partially because phone makers like Apple and Google are reluctant to make phones hard to steal and also because privacy advocates don’t want them to.

Obama wants to raise air transportation and customs and immigration taxes

In the vein of, “I’ve never seen a tax I didn’t like,” President Obama’s budget includes a whopping tax increase for airline travelers who already pay 85 percent of their tab that goes to everything from the air traffic control system to airports and TSA security checkpoint to customs and immigration searches at international airports. The airline associations claim that a $300 ticket is taxed about $60 when all is added in.

The largest share of those taxes — $3.90 per flight segment, plus a 7.5 percent ticket tax — goes to the Federal Aviation Administration, mostly for air traffic control. The agency has been criticized recently for failing to trim 5 percent of its budget (as required by the sequestration) without causing widespread flight delays.

Mr. Obama’s budget proposal would also increase the taxes air travelers pay for customs inspections, to $7.50 from $5.50 for an international flight. And the tax used to pay for immigration services would increase to $9 from $7. Yet the travel industry has complained that waiting times to enter the United States have increased, sometimes stretching to hours at busy airports. It is not clear whether all the new revenue would be used to hire additional inspectors at those airports.

Another proposed tax increase would raise the security fee to $5 per one-way trip from $2.50 per flight segment, doubling the tax paid by passengers on nonstop flights. That money goes to the Transportation Security Administration, which has been criticized by Congress, the Government Accountability Office and passengers over wasteful spending.

The best places to fly this summer

Instead of heading to Europe this summer, where airfares are soaring, try a destination in the USA where some airfares have dropped.

Airline ticket prices for summer travel to Tampa, Fla., New York, Denver and Washington, D.C., have fallen, after steep increases for several consecutive years, according to The average ticket already purchased for summertime flights to Chicago is down more than 18 percent from the same period last year. Tickets bought for Honolulu are 10 percent cheaper than those bought during the same stretch of 2012. Lots of domestic destinations have seen soft demand and the biggest price drops have been in cities with more discount-carrier service than years before.

“A lot of big destinations are seeing double-digit price drops,” said Jeanenne Tornatore, a travel analyst at Orbitz, the online ticket seller.