Air travelers who made resolutions to travel more in 2018 may be in for a shock. That’s because Congress is considering an 89 percent increase to the “passenger facility charge,” one of the many taxes and fees airline passengers pay every time they fly. If approved, travelers flying out of Nevada would pay up to $96.3 million more in air traveler fees this coming year alone.
The charge — also known as the “airport tax” — is one of 14 different fees tacked on to the cost of every plane ticket we buy. The current law allows airports to charge up to $4.50. The measure introduced by U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, would raise that to $8.50 on the first leg of each flight. That may not sound like a lot, but a family of four purchasing round-trip tickets could pay up to $104 in airport taxes alone.
Passengers are asking: Why?
In 2016, America’s airports took in $3.2 billion in passenger facility charge revenue, the highest level in the history of the program. That’s on top of the $6 billion in federal funding that is just sitting in the FAA’s trust fund. That’s money available for use by U.S. airports. The argument that the airports need the money when they are currently sitting on $14.2 billion of unrestricted cash and investments on hand is nothing if not absurd.
When pressed by a congressional committee to name an airport infrastructure improvement project that had gone unfunded due to lack of current passenger facility charge revenues, the head of the airport trade group was unable to name a single one.
It also belies a more fundamental question: Why should travelers pay for the total cost of running an airport when the municipalities and businesses that stand to benefit the most pay nothing? If the airports really need more money, it should come from surrounding airport businesses and the municipalities rather than from passengers. We are tapped out.
The reason, of course, is politics. Some in Congress and local chambers of commerce figure that they can get away with a sneaky tax increase without having to anger their constituents by pawning it off as part of the fare airline travelers pay.
It’s a bad deal for the millions of passengers who already pay more than their fair share in taxes. In addition to the airport tax, travelers pay a premium for parking, taxi and ride-sharing surcharges and expensive airport food.
Meanwhile, Congress — whose memers claim to be looking out for the little guy — just passed a massive tax cut that excluded private jet owners from paying an excise tax when they fly. Relative to what the normal commercial passenger pays flying coach, private jet owners — who happen to be among the biggest campaign contributors — pay pennies on the dollar. Now, after a giveaway to the wealthiest among us, Congress is proposing to raise airport taxes on the little guy.
The good news is that airfares are down, more people are flying than ever before and business is beginning to boom. Now is not the time to curb this growth by nearly doubling a tax that will make flying more expensive for our nation’s nearly 800 million yearly airline passengers.
Raising the passenger facility charge is nothing more than a greedy and easy way for airports to raise more revenue without asking their own municipalities for more funding.
If members of Congress truly want to ease the tax burden on the middle class, they should scrap the proposed airport tax increase.
Charlie Leocha is president and co-founder of Travelers United and a member of the Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee for Aviation Consumer Protections.