Sunday, February 15, 2015

Government Helps Airlines Shift Security Costs to Passengers

Airlines got a $373 million dollar gift from the government when it eliminated the Aviation Security Infrastructure Fee last year. What with the slide in fuel prices, these 37 U.S. and 71 foreign airlines have to be feeling pretty flush right now.

The fee, called ASIF was imposed after 9-11 so that airlines would contribute to the government takeover of airport security - which up until the terror attacks was the airlines' responsibility. In exchange for getting out from under the ASIF fee, I am told, airlines agreed to drop their opposition to doubling the security fee that air travelers pay.  

For each one way segment of a journey, the passenger security contribution rose from $2.50 to $5.60. And just so that you are clear, airlines would pay not a dime

What prompted American lawmakers to conclude that passengers should pay full freight and the airlines nothing, I can’t say. I was told that the politicians concluded that the burden of security should be placed on those who directly benefit, that being travelers.

That’s a curious rationale considering that one of the biggest burdens on airport security over the past few years has come as a consequence of bag fees. Once airlines started charging for checked bags, travelers who couldn't or didn't want to pay between $20 to $45 per bag, started toting them on the plane, which of course requires that those bags be added to the workload of TSA screeners. 

In 2014, fifteen U.S. airlines collected $2.65 billion in bag fees, from Delta’s $654 million to Mesa’s $883,000, that’s a lot of money. But for every three passengers who pay up and fork over, one will cart the thing onto the airplane which is how some 59 million more roll-aboards, back packs and duffels went on the belt in 2011 than in 2010 as I reported for The New York Times at the time. It is a good guess the number has increased over the past 4 years.

That airlines have found new ways to make money is fine and dandy. That’s their business. But how they run their business becomes our business when their new revenue stream creates more work for federal workers and rather than pick up the cost, airlines shift them on to passengers with the U.S. government's help.

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