U.S. Airlines Push Back Against Proposed TSA Fee Hike

Credit: skift.com

Reuters  / Brendan McDermid

A private contractor prepares a passenger at a security checkpoint during the check-in process at at JFK airport in New York. Airlines and airports have been spending more money to hire contractors to alleviate some of the burden on TSA. Reuters / Brendan McDermid

Skift Take: Airlines for America makes a good point. Before Congress raises the security fee on airline tickets, shouldn't it let TSA use all of the money airlines collect from the fee?

— Brian Sumers

A representative from the largest U.S. airline trade group on Monday criticized the Trump Administration’s proposal to increase the fee consumers pay to fund the Transportation Security Administration, arguing Congress has erred by banning the agency from using all the money it generates from its current fee.

The group, Airlines for America, is still upset from 2014, the last time Congress raised the security fee. Congress increased it from $2.50 per nonstop flight to $5.60 per one-way trip, but earmarked 60 cents of each one-way allocation to overall deficit reduction. Travelers now contribute about $1.3 billion each year that is not used to improve security, according to Airlines for America.

“Our first concern is about raising a fee at the same time you are diverting $1.3 billion annually away,” said Sharon Pinkerton, senior vice president for legislative and regulatory policy at Airlines for America, said in a telephone briefing. “That seems backwards. I think the first thing Congress and the Administration has to do is return that money to TSA.”

The Trump Administration has said it wants the new fee to cover 75 percent of the TSA’s costs. The Associated Press pegged the increase at $1 per one-way trip.

The Trump Administration’s document is a blueprint, and there’s no indication of how much of it Congress will adopt. Still, Airlines for America signaled it plans to lobby against the TSA funding proposal.

“What would the need be to increase the TSA fee?” Pinkerton said. “That simply has not been demonstrated to us. Far from it. We think that system we have in place now should be able to realize those efficiencies and ensure passenger wait times are not excessive.”

Delta Air Lines is the only non-discount U.S. carrier that does not belong to Airlines for America. A Delta spokeswoman declined to comment on the airline’s reaction to the proposed TSA fee increase.

In the briefing, Pinkerton credited TSA for recovering from last year’s operational miscues, mainly in the spring, when passengers at some large airports waited in lines for hours. Many airports complained that TSA had erred by cutting its staffing as the number of travelers were increasing. Airlines for America even created a social media hashtag — #IHateTheWait — to get passengers to pressure the agency to reduce wait times.

Most of the long lines are gone, but Pinkerton said Airlines for America still has some concerns about TSA procedures. She said the group wants the agency to add more canine teams, and enroll more travelers in TSA PreCheck, its expedited security program. She questioned whether the agency can improve its outreach and promotion to attract new PreCheck members, perhaps by offering special prices to families. She also asked whether the agency can streamline the PreCheck application process to make it easier.

Airlines for America also wants TSA to make its budgeting and staffing process more transparent, she said.

“They really need to be able to demonstrate exactly what their budget needs to be,” Pinkerton said. “A lot of that comes from their staffing allocation model. You look at how many people you think you are going to have travel this summer and that will drive the number of people you need to deploy. We haven’t seen an analysis yet from TSA that says essentially, we need more people than we have now.”

Air Traffic control

While Airlines for America does not support the proposed TSA funding change, it endorsed another Trump budget proposal — a change in how the U.S. air traffic control system operates. Under the Trump plan, the Federal Aviation Administration would relinquish control, and the system instead would be run by an independent non-governmental corporation.

Many stakeholders favor the plan, which would ensure the United States operates like many other developed nations, including Germany, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. One major holdout is Delta, which has argued the U.S. air traffic control system works fine as it is.

The change could make the nation’s air traffic control system more efficient, Pinkerton said. It would also insulate it from partisan politics, and keep air traffic control running smoothly during crises like government shutdowns. During previous shutdowns, air traffic controllers worked temporarily without pay, though they later received their wages.

“It makes no sense for the aviation community to be held hostage to the politics of Washington,” she said.

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