TSA fee increase this week arrives with load of complaints
Business travel and airline industry groups blasted increased Transportation Security Administration fees imposed on Monday on every plane ticket in the country, saying the rise amounts to a travel tax.
The security fee, imposed after 9/11 to help fund the TSA, rose to $5.60 for all one-way flights, with any domestic connection longer than four hours counting as a separate flight. Previously, the fee was $2.50 for a nonstop, one-way flight or $5 for a connecting one-way flight.
The costs mean that a typical round-trip flight will include $11.20 in security fees.
“It's counter-productive to business travel and obviously a deterrent,” said Sean McCurdy, president of the Pittsburgh Business Travel Association and president and CEO of the Corporate Hotel Network. “The most disappointing part is that a portion is going back to the general fund. It's basically a tax is what they've done. Congress should look at TSA costs. We've already seen airline pricing go up. I think the travel industry has gotten into this nickel-and-dime thing, and now the government is doing it as well.”
Congress passed the increase as part of this year's budget to help reduce the deficit, although the amount collected is less than TSA's annual budget. TSA projects to collect $3.6 billion from the fee next year.
TSA estimates the increase will bring in $36.5 billion during the next 10 years, a $16.9 billion increase. About $12.6 billion of the new collections will go to the Treasury, with the rest offsetting TSA costs.
“Our government must stop using airlines and their passengers as its own personal ATM whenever it needs more money,” said Vaughn Jennings, spokesman for Airlines for America, an airline industry group.
The TSA budget has steadily increased from $4.7 billion its first full year to $7.4 billion this fiscal year.
“In accordance with federal law, the revenue generated from the security fee will be deposited in the general fund of the U.S. Treasury. The revenue is to be used to offset TSA costs for providing civil aviation security services, after stipulated amounts are applied to reduction of the federal deficit,” TSA spokesman Mike McCarthy said.
Politicians who supported the budget deal didn't agree with all aspects of how TSA is implementing the fee, particularly the portion that charges an additional security fee for layovers longer than four hours. Under the old terms, the fee was capped at $5 one way.
The chairs of the House and Senate budget committee, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., wrote to TSA Administrator John Pistole two months ago saying they didn't intend to raise the cap beyond $5.60 each way.
That sentiment was echoed by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy's chief of staff, Susan Mosychuk. Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair., was at Pittsburgh International Airport on Monday.
“The congressman agrees with Budget Chairman Paul Ryan that TSA Administrator Pistole is inappropriately citing congressional intent as a reason to change the fee structure and supports Mr. Ryan's efforts to review the administration's actions because Congress never intended to remove the cap, and it should be restored,” she said.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, didn't support the Murray/Ryan budget.
“This deal establishes new, higher budget caps to increase spending. The deal purports to offset those increases. But it does so, in some cases, with gimmicks and to a large degree with higher revenues,” Toomey said in a statement about the budget.
A spokesman for Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, who voted for the budget, did not return a call for comment.
Aviation experts said the extra fees wouldn't affect the number of people flying and conceded there is a cost to securing the nation's air travel system but said the TSA spends too much and is inefficient.
“The TSA has wasted billions on equipment and programs that don't work,” said Mike Boyd, president of Denver-based Boyd Group International, an aviation consulting company. “People who say the TSA is doing a great job because we haven't had another 9/11, that's almost a dishonest statement because we didn't have one before 9/11, either.”
Travelers at Pittsburgh International Airport disliked the fee increases but said that wouldn't prompt them to quit flying.
“I think things are already expensive. They make you pay for baggage, and there are hidden fees,” Julie Malkowski, 46, of Milwaukee said of airlines.
Malkowski travels often for business and said that even though her employer pays for work-related flights, she pays close attention to flight prices and additional fees. She said she appreciates the job TSA employees do, but thinks there could be a better way to do it.
“I know they have a job to do. But things like security pat-downs could be done with a little more dignity,” she said.
“I don't like that,” Jean Urash, 58, of Erie said about a portion of the TSA fee increase going to fund the federal budget. “If it's going to the airport, or being used for security, that's OK. But not when the money is going to pay for something else.”
Staff writer Corinne Kennedy contributed to this report. Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or firstname.lastname@example.org.