Congress should abandon plan that would burden air travelers with fee hike
© Greg Nash

As the holiday travel season is upon us, politicians in Washington are asking consumers to pony up and pay more for something that’s already paid for. This time, they’re asking air travelers to pay the extra price.

We can all agree that our airport infrastructure requires ongoing maintenance. However, legislation currently being considered by Congress errs in its funding details: it attempts to foot the bill by hiking costs on travelers, even though the money to pay for improving airport infrastructure already exists. An added tax on top of the all the fees that consumers already pay to fly, is something we don’t need.

Proposed legislation, the Investing in America: Rebuilding America’s Airport Infrastructure Act (H.R. 3791), would remove the federal cap on the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC) that is paid by air travelers as part of their ticket price. Since 2009, the PFC has already paid for $165 billion in infrastructure projects. It’s time that airports start using this funding source and the $14 billion they have on hand for improvements, rather than solely relying on raising money from passengers. But instead of spending existing dollars, proponents of the bill want passengers to pay more.

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On its face, legislation to remove the cap on PFC fees may seem like a marginal price to pay. However, if the PFC charge were doubled, as some have proposed, a family of four would pay $144 in charges when travelling, an increase of $72. This will burden budget-conscious consumers and families who rely on less expensive tickets at airports across the country. Members of Congress -- and the airports supporting the proposal -- seem to be betting that an increased PFC can be just another ancillary fee that can be absorbed by the consumer.

It’s also important to note that since customers pay twice when they have a layover, consumers who travel to and from smaller airports with fewer direct flights could be priced out. As a result, the PFC increase will disproportionately impact rural residents across America. 

Our elected officials should understand why this is unfair, particularly because airports can afford to fund improvements on their own property. As demand for air travel increases, it creates tremendous amounts of revenue from retail space, such as gift shops, bars, rental cars, hotels and parking facilities. It’s time that airports start using this funding source and the $14 billion they have on hand for improvements, rather than solely relying on raising money from passengers.

Several airports are already making substantial investments in airport improvements with the current level of funding. From small airports in Charleston, S.C., and Buffalo to larger airports in Los Angeles and New York, the current PFC level is adequately funding projects across the country.

Airports should take a hard look at their already ballooning budgets before Congress decides to impose yet another tax. We do not think they have made a persuasive case that this funding is needed. While investment in airports is necessary, we believe it can be done at the current federally mandated level without an additional financial hit to consumers.

John Breyault is the Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud for the National Consumers League.