But all that might be about to change. The Obama administration’s deficit-reduction plan includes a new mandatory $100 surcharge per flight for air traffic control services, which airlines would pay directly to the Federal Aviation Administration. The fee, however, would almost certainly be passed along to customers. The plan also raises the passenger security tax from $2.50 to $5 per non-stop flight, and eventually to $7.50.
“It’s crazy,” says Peachey, who runs a dating Web site based in Miami. “If taxes go up even more, they’ll kill the dream for many people, especially for a family that wants to travel.”
She’s not the only one angered by this part of the government’s deficit-reduction plan. A recent letter to the speaker of the House, the Senate majority leader and the co-chairmen of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction signed by 116 members of Congress expresses “strong opposition” to the proposal. “Imposing a new fee on the aviation industry in order to raise revenue would have a devastating impact on the aviation industry and fails to achieve our shared goal of improving the economy and creating jobs,” it notes.
The airline industry is unhappy, too. To put it mildly. In a campaign that includes newspaper ads and a Web site (www.stopairtaxnow.com), it’s trying to prevent the proposal from taking off.
“Aviation is already taxed at a higher rate than alcohol, beer, cigarettes and firearms — products taxed at high rates to discourage use,” says Steve Lott, a spokesman for the Air Transport Association, an industry trade group. “In short, the administration is proposing a huge new tax on the least profitable and most highly taxed industry in the economy, while all its competitors are left untouched.”
But no one will be hit harder than passengers, experts say.
“The airline industry will figure out some way to pass this tax along to the consumer,” says Thomas Cooke, a federal taxation expert at Georgetown University’s business school. “It’s incredibly unfair to air travelers.”
Why tax air travel? Because, Cooke says, passengers are “an easy target” with no organized voice in Washington, so officials believe that they’ll offer little resistance. And until now, that’s proved to be correct. Many of the self-styled passenger advocates have remained silent on this issue, and the reaction from air travelers has been largely one of resignation.
But that’s changing.
Passengers such as Eric Smith, an aerospace technician from Gaithersburg, are “stunned” by the administration’s proposal. They’re most galled by the fact that most of the money would go to reduce the deficit, while the balance would fund something that passengers aren’t exactly clamoring for — a larger Transportation Security Administration. “Aren’t we already paying a 9/11 security fee?” asks Smith.