Poll: Travelers willing to pay higher airport fees

Poll: Travelers willing to pay higher airport fees
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A majority of airline passengers are willing to pay more for plane tickets to help fund airport improvements, according to a poll released Wednesday and conducted by the group that lobbies for the travel industry in Washington. 

The poll, which was conducted by the U.S. Travel Association, found that 58 percent of airline passengers are willing to pay up to $4 more per flight “to fund airport improvements projects that would enable airports to accommodate more airlines, modernize facilities or reduce delays in and around the airport.” 

U.S. Travel Association President Roger Dow said the poll results should spur lawmakers to increase the airport fee when they tackle aviation funding later this year. 

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"Because travel consumers are very astute, we're not at all surprised to learn that they are willing to pay for something that provides them with a tangible benefit," Dow said in a statement. "Air passengers aren't thrilled about ancillary fees, which disappear into the airlines' pockets, or federal taxes, which disappear into Washington's pockets. But if you show them a local user fee that is tightly structured to invest in our outdated and overburdened infrastructure, they understand the difference and strongly support it.” 

Airports and travel groups have been pushing Congress to increase the Passenger Facility Charge that is currently added to each plane ticket purchase from $4.50 to $8.50 to help pay for facility improvements. The groups are hoping Congress will include the increase in a funding measure for the Federal Aviation Administration that is expected to be taken up by lawmakers this summer. 

The travel group’s findings run counter to a recent poll from the airline industry that found a large majority of U.S. voters are opposed to such increase in the airport fee. Airlines have argued that passengers are already charged enough in taxes on top of the cost of their flights. 

“The lack of a crisis in airport funding hasn’t prevented some from trying to invent one,” Airlines for America President Nicholas Calio said in a statement when his group's poll was released on March 3.

“Since 2008, over $70 billion of airport capital projects have been completed, are underway or are approved by U.S. airlines and their airport partners at the nation’s largest 30 airports," Calio continued. "Voters correctly believe that airports have plenty, yet passengers are taxed enough.”

Dow said his group’s findings Wednesday show passengers feel otherwise. 

"Fortuitously, there is an existing funding mechanism for fixing our beleaguered airports that speaks perfectly to flyers' preferences—the Passenger Facility Charge [PFC], a local user fee paid only by users of specific airports," he said. "The trouble is, it hasn't been indexed for inflation in a decade and a half, while our air travel infrastructure falls further behind the rest of the world. It's time for airlines, cities, Washington politicians and the traveling public to recognize that the PFC is the answer to a host of air travel problems, and summon the will to update it for the 21st century."

The Passenger Facility Charge was first established by Congress in 1990. The FAA says "airports use these fees to fund FAA-approved projects that enhance safety, security, or capacity; reduce noise; or increase air carrier competition."

Airports and travel groups argue that the PFC is long overdue for an increase, since it has not been raised in 15 years.

Other findings in the Travel Association’s poll include 62 percent of passengers saying they are “‘somewhat frustrated’ or ‘very frustrated’ with air travel generally” and 72 percent saying “having fewer airlines to choose from does not reasonably serve the needs of people and businesses that depend on flying.” 

The poll also found that 69 percent of passengers are opposed to airline efforts to block international carriers from flying to domestic airports through challenges to “Open Skies” agreements between the U.S. and foreign nations.