What the New TSA Fees Mean for You

The TSA recently moved to make changes to security fees. See how that could affect you—and your travel plans.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has increased security fees, and U.S. travelers are likely to feel the pinch, but airline industry groups are fighting back at what they see as unreasonable increases—especially since the increased taxes won’t necessarily be used to fund aviation security.

The “September 11” security fees charged to passengers were implemented after the 2001 terror attacks when the TSA took over air security from the airlines and enacted security fees for all airline passengers. The fees amounted to $2.50 per flight leg, with a cap set at $10 per round-trip. However, effective July 21 of this year, those now-familiar security fees look a bit different.

The rates did go up—up to a maximum of $5.60 each way on a one-way trip—but passengers are now charged a flat fee, regardless of plane changes—"enplanements," as they're known in the industry.

For example, a flyer who flew a round-trip from Atlanta to Denver via direct flights each way, would have paid a total of $5 in security fees under the previous system. Under the new system, the charge would be $11.20, a 124 percent increase in security fees.

The increase is not so dramatic on multi-leg flights. A flyer flying round-trip from Charleston, S.C., to Philadelphia with a quick plane change in Charlotte (a total of four flights in the round trip), would have been charged $10 under the TSA’s previous system, but today would be charged $11.20, representing a 12 percent increases.

But it’s not as simple as feeling a 12 percent or 124 percent increase according to some airline industry organizations, and to voice their concerns, Airlines 4 America (A4A) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have filed a petition to the U.S. Court of Appeals to fight the changes for several reasons.

Among the problems is the distinction between one-way and round-trip flights. The previous system considered all flights in a single trip as part of a round-trip flight, which would come in under the $10 fee cap. The restructured plan, however, considers flights separated by four-hour or longer layovers to be separate, one-way flights, meaning the passenger pays another $5.60 fee (the ruling specifies four hours between domestic flights and 12 hours between domestic and international flights or between two international flights). Additionally, unlike the previous fee structure, there is no longer a cap on how many one-way flights a passenger could be charged for taking.

Besides the potential charge increases based on long layovers, the industry groups are raising questions about where the money is going. Rather than earmarking the increased revenues  for improving airline security measures, the revenues go into the general fund of the Treasury, and the Budget Act requires any revenue above the $250-million mark raised through these increases to be put toward paying down the national deficit.

Since the rate increase, A4A says about "21%—or $63—of a typical $300 ticket now goes to" the federal government, and in the years since 2000, taxes have skyrocketed by 49 percent, even "while base fares have dropped 8 percent" in the same period.

Finally, amid all the fee changes, it’s worth noting that one fee is set to disappear. The Aviation Security Infrastructure Fee, paid by airlines directly and implemented shortly after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, generates in excess of $400 million annually, but is set to expire in October of this year. There has been no legislative attempt to replace the income from the expiring infrastructure fee, so for now it looks like airlines will be paying less for security costs, and individual passengers will be paying more.