Transportation Security Administration fees on plane tickets are rising Monday, and travelers used to non-stop flights or long layovers will notice the biggest change.
The current fee is $2.50 for a non-stop flight or $5 for a connecting flight. The new fee will be $5.60 for all flights, with any connection longer than four hours counting as a separate flight.
Although Congress approved the fee hike to help reduce the deficit, TSA is the agency getting pounded by more than 300 comments through Friday largely criticizing the agency and government taxation. Although the fees are going into effect, TSA will collect comments through Aug. 19.
Patrick Riehl of Cambridge, Mass., argued that two things other than the TSA have made aviation safer since the Sept. 11 attacks that prompted creation of the agency: reinforced cockpit doors and passengers who fight back. "It only succeeds in humiliating the elderly, scaring children and making all travelers feel like criminal suspects," he said in submitted comments. "We should scale back airport security, not expand it."
Jonathan Peterson, of Atlanta, said he strongly opposes the higher fee because of past TSA mistakes in buying equipment that was later discarded. "The TSA has wasted tremendous traveler time and money, with useless security theater and lobbyist payout devices like whole-body scanners," he said.
James Cartmill said because money is diverted to the general fund, the higher fee should be considered a tax — and House Republicans should be blamed for going against their pledge not to raise taxes. "It's all a very expensive fleecing of consumers, and now the TSA fee will become another thing to be cynical about and to add to the cost of travel," he said.
Congress agreed to the increase in December to raise $12.6 billion to cut the deficit. TSA estimates the hike will generate $16.9 billion more than current collections.
"In accordance with federal law, the revenue generated from the security fee will be deposited in the general fund of the Treasury," said David Castelveter, a TSA spokesman. "The revenue is to be used to offset TSA costs for providing civil aviation security services, after stipulated amounts are applied to reduction of the federal deficit."
Industry groups, such as Airlines for America, which represent the largest airlines, and the U.S. Travel Association, representing a variety of travel businesses, have opposed the fee increase.
"It's like paying for a root canal," said George Hobica, founder of airfarewatchdog.com, which monitors ticket prices. "It's something you didn't want anyway. Now you're paying more for it."
Business travelers who stitch together trips to multiple cities and stay in each one are expected to feel the brunt of the increase.
"I think it's going to hit people who do multi-city trips," Hobica told USA TODAY. "Policymakers really treat travelers as a piggy bank, picking their pockets."
Kevin Mitchell, chairman of the Business Travel Coalition, a trade group serving travel managers, said the fee is part of the government's dysfunctional funding for all aviation regulation and security. Businesses need to find more constructive solutions for how to finance aviation rather than the current combination of general taxes and user fees, he said.
"There is an incoherent policy for financing the U.S. aviation system, including fees for security," Mitchell said.