Passenger Facility Charge helps create safer airports

James May, president and CEO of the Air Transport Association (ATA), in a recent letter (“Last thing passengers need is another increase in taxes” 6/16) claimed the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) is a “tax” on passengers and is “set” at $4.50 per passenger. The PFC is not a tax. It’s a user-fee paid by passengers who utilize the airport and is invested in projects at that airport to enhance safety, security, capacity, competition and improve the environment. Unlike a tax, the fee does not go to a government treasury.

Also, it is not set at $4.50 per passenger: $4.50 is the current ceiling. Some airports charge nothing; others charge less than $4.50. The cap went into effect in 2000 and was never indexed for inflation. Airports are seeking a reasonable $2.50 increase in the cap. 

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Mr. May claims airport charges have gone up 33 percent since 2000. This hides the fact that since 2000, airport costs have averaged about 5 percent of airline operating expenses. In 2009, airport rents actually went down about 5 percent. Airports, too, have been cutting their budgets. Ask any airport manager who has had to layoff employees due to airline cutbacks, and they’ll tell you that airports do, in fact, live in the real world.

Mr. May claims that of a “typical” $300 airfare, 21 percent goes to airports or the federal government in the form of taxes. I priced an itinerary from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, with a connection over the July 4th weekend. All three of the airports happen to charge a $4.50 PFC. The base fare for this itinerary was about $500: expensive, but not outrageous. I found there is a “peak travel surcharge” of $18.60 one-way on this busy holiday weekend. That’s $37.20 roundtrip. Then, I learned this airline considers almost every day between now and January a peak-travel day with an associated surcharge. Assuming I bring two bags, I would pay $120 roundtrip. These fees go directly to the airline’s bank account. The PFC goes to the airport to benefit consumers through safer, more secure and efficient airports. 

Finally, federal taxes made up of a 7.5 percent excise tax, segment fees and security fees amount to $68 for the roundtrip. PFCs, at the current $4.50 cap are $18. The PFC accounts for only 2 percent of the cost. Together, with federal taxes, that’s 10 percent below the 21 percent claimed by ATA. It’s also well below the percentage accounted for by airline-imposed baggage fees. Assuming all three airports adopted the proposed $7 PFC, the cost would increase only $10 roundtrip: less than half of the cost of checking one bag one-way. The share of the cost attributable to the PFC would still only be 3 percent. 

So Mr. May claims PFCs are a tax: untrue. He insinuates airports are bilking the airlines:  untrue. Finally he claims airport and government taxes equal 21 percent of a typical airfare:  untrue. This is yet another example of airline hypocrisy and putting their interests above those of the traveling public.

Washington


Recognize inherent value in ecological integrity

From James Stephen Mastaler,  PhD student in Ethics & Theology at Loyola University 

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) cited the theology of Fr. Thomas Berry and wrote of the importance of reverence for the natural world “Why do we distance ourselves from the oil disaster” (5/26). Their messages are timely in light of the Gulf disaster — a disaster that has left some people of faith feeling as though God’s body lies dying in the Gulf.

Regardless of the name for one’s God, that divinity is encountered through the wonder of our world, from a cloud of incense to a sunrise on the horizon. For many, including Fr. Thomas Berry, the natural world provides wonder-filled spaces where people can reflect on earth’s beauty and connect with the divine.

But that connection is lost when ecosystems are destroyed. It is a destruction of natural sacraments that is as deadening to the spirit as it is to the body. Even more, it diminishes any sort of divinity the human spirits hopes to encounter.

In a very real sense, we kill God at least a little bit when we destroy the wonder-filled spaces in the world around us. This is what is now happening in the Gulf of Mexico and this is what our representatives ought to make sure never happens again.

We should recognize the inherent value in ecological integrity. The oil we’re drilling from our coasts isn’t worth what we risk losing. If there is a God for us to encounter, despoiling the world with oil won’t make the task any easier.

Chicago, Ill.