Airlines, not travelers, dodge TSA security fees

The Transportation Security Administration is letting airlines off the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars they pay each year for the agency to screen passengers and their bags.

But travelers will be expected to pick up the tab as TSA more than doubles the 9/11 security fee it charges passengers each time they board a plane. TSA estimates the move will cost passengers an additional $800 million next year, and $4.3 billion over the next 10 years.

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Meanwhile, the airline industry will save about $373 million a year, according to a notice TSA will publish in Tuesday's edition of the Federal Register.

The move was mandated by Congress in the most recent budget, giving TSA no choice but to comply.

"The revenue is to be used to offset TSA costs for providing civil aviation security services," TSA spokesman David Castelveter said.

Travelers are already paying a $5.60 security fee per flight, which kicked in on July 21 and more than doubles the previous $2.50 charge.

Passengers are charged the $5.60 each time they board a flight. So on a one-way trip from New York City to San Francisco that has a layover in Chicago, they would be charged for both legs of the trip. The same charges would apply on the return flight.

TSA says the higher cost for passengers will offset the additional security fees airlines have been paying but that are set to expire Oct. 1. 

The move is intended to level the playing field in the airline industry.

The problem with the security fee is that it does not apply equally to all airlines, TSA pointed out. 

Established at the turn of the century, new airlines that have formed since then are not subject to the fees that their long-standing competitors have to pay.

Furthermore, security fees are no longer being collected from airlines that have gone out of business.

This increases the financial burden on the remaining airlines that have to pick up the slack for the other airlines that are not charged the security fee, TSA notes.