Taxes and fees make up a hefty chunk of an airline ticket.
By JANE ENGLE
LOS ANGELES TIMES
Have you looked at the corner of an airline ticket recently, where the fare, fees and taxes appear to be listed? I have, and found most of it indecipherable.
One thing I do know: A new fee soon will appear, a "security service fee" of as much as $10 per round trip.
Congress authorized it in November to pay for aviation security improvements in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, and it is expected to begin next month.
So it seems like a good time to look at the taxes and fees that the federal government and the airports load onto our airline tickets to pay for airport building projects, FAA operations and more.
"Ultimately it's the passenger who pays for everything in this [aviation] system," says Stephen Van Beek, senior vice president for policy at Airports Council International-North America.
Codes: Let's start by deciphering the codes on a round-trip ticket priced Dec. 26 for travel Feb. 9 to 15 from Los Angeles International Airport to Albuquerque, with a connection in Phoenix.
Here's what it shows, followed by "translations" from the Federal Aviation Administration and other experts. (The order of these listings might vary according to the issuer and whether it's a paper ticket or an e-ticket receipt, but the codes are generally the same.)
USD 133.03: Base fare -- the ticket price before taxes and fees.
US 9.97: Domestic passenger ticket tax.
XT 24.00: Total of domestic flight segment fees plus passenger facility charges.
USD 167.00: Total ticket price including taxes and fees.
The fare listed in big type in airline advertisements is generally the total of the base fare (often only one way) and the domestic passenger ticket tax. Smaller type at the bottom lists the other taxes.
The new security service fee would bump this ticket's price by $10, for a total of $43.97 worth of taxes and fees, the equivalent of 33 percent of the $133.03 base fare.
Did I mention that some passenger facility charges also might increase as a result of congressional action? More on that later.
And that's just the breakdown on a domestic ticket.
Worldwide: "We think there are about 1,700 variations of 760 taxes that can go on an airline ticket around the world," says Howard Goldberg, director of taxation and insurance for the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, in Montreal.
He doesn't know the exact number, because, he says, "We get two or three new fees every day."
IATA maintains a list of categories, by nation and territory, of taxes and fees on airline tickets, last updated in February. Among the more colorful entries: a "tourist development tax" (Benin, in Africa), "consumption tax" (Japan), "alien head tax" (Philippines) and my favorite, "Great Man-Made River Tax" (Libya).
Since Sept. 11, some airlines, mostly in less developed nations, have added "war risk surcharges" to pay for higher insurance premiums, Goldberg says.
Just be glad you don't live in the Netherlands. As of February, the United States allowed seven types of taxes and fees on airline tickets (some only on international tickets). The Netherlands slapped on 11 kinds, including "security taxes" and "noise isolation charges," the most taxes of any nation or territory on the IATA list.
This year airline passengers can expect other costs to increase too. One problem, experts say, is that airlines lost billions after Sept. 11 and, on top of that, are implementing costly new security measures. The travel slump and increased security expenses also cost U.S. airports $3 billion to $4 billion after Sept. 11, Van Beek of the Airports Council International estimates.
"We're in a big hole," he says, predicting that numerous airports will try to raise various fees. One option is to increase landing fees, which airports charge airlines. Because they increase the cost of doing business, such charges often are passed on to the consumer.