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Airports and airlines fight over who gets to lighten your wallet the most

The authorities that run America's airports don't think you've been nickeled and dimed enough. They're lobbying Congress to hike the "passenger facility charge" from the current $4.50 to $7.50, levied each time you take off from an airport, not per trip. That's a jump of two-thirds.

An increase to $7, tucked into a measure set to reauthorize the Federal Aviation Administration, is making its way through the House. The Senate has voted in the past to freeze the amount where it is, but we all know politicians. The caprices of either side can shift as quickly as the windsocks on the runways.

A rep for the American Association of Airport Executives (side note: never take money advice from a group with the word "Executives" in its name) told USA Today that the airports just want your money to "keep up with inflation," claiming purchasing power for the fee has decreased by 50% in nine years.


Since the charge was first introduced in 1992, the airports have collectively raked in more than $27.5 billion in what amounts to a de facto tax.

Airlines, you will be surprised to learn, have found themselves in the unusual position of taking the customer's side, although the gesture isn't as magnanimous as it may seem on the surface. Knowing their own leverage for bleeding will be weakened if the airports get in on the act, they have been active in opposing the increase. So they can more liberally apply their own extra fees in the future, no doubt.

The rep for the airlines' own organization says the airports use too much of the existing charge to fund non-essential projects and that there's no reason to give them any more right now.

They may have a point. Just because your airport is in woeful shape, or poorly designed, or inadequate, doesn't mean that the pressure on passengers should be turned up. We all know that often, the money earmarked from such taxes and fees doesn't hit the intended mark.

The airports would also benefit from better money management. For example, LAX in Los Angeles used $760,000 of its budget -- the one that's allegedly so stretched -- to pay for lobbyists to convince Congress to increase the fee.

Airports are also able to use revenue bonds, parking and rental car fee revenue, and even grants from the FAA itself to meet its budgets.

So that's where the tiff stands, like something between a couple of children whining to their mother that the other one got the bigger cookie. The airlines are protecting their right to be the main agent taking our pound of flesh, while the airports are jealous that the airlines get to bleed us for $15 luggage fees. (Yes, that's literally what AAAE rep told USA Today: "We scratch our heads when airlines talk about a $2.50 increase for infrastructure investment as a bad thing. But it's fine for them to charge $15 for a baggage fee.")

If these two kids keep squabbling like this, Mom -- meaning Congress -- may have to figure out a whole new method for giving out cookies, and codify who's allowed to take what from passengers, what the maximum charges should be, and, most crucial of all, what should be properly taxed.

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