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A Wave of Air Travel Fees Can Make for Some Very Taxing Vacations : Airlines: Passengers who look closely at their tickets may be surprised to find that the taxes being imposed on both domestic and international flights can add up.

February 09, 1992|JACK ADLER

Taxes on air travelers have increased to such a degree that airlines throughout the world recently began enclosing a notice with each ticket to alert the flying public that government-imposed taxes and fees are included in the price of their tickets.

The stuffers, which began appearing in December, are being circulated by the Air Transport Assn. and International Air Transport Assn., the respective domestic and international airline industry trade groups.

"We'll keep using the stuffers until we feel the message has been disseminated," said Bill Jackman, an ATA spokesman.

A supply of the notices was also given to travel agents to distribute when tickets are purchased.

"They've definitely gotten the attention of our clients," said Martha Scott, manager of Glendale Travel. "We feel the public should be made aware of the taxes they pay on their tickets."

The language in the notices being distributed reads this way: "The price of this ticket includes taxes and fees which are imposed on air transportation by government authorities. These taxes and fees, which may represent a significant portion of the cost of air transportation, are either included in the fare, or shown separately in the tax boxes of this ticket. You may also be required to pay taxes or fees not already collected."

Among the taxes currently being imposed on U.S. air travelers is a 10% domestic ticket tax. On international flights departing the United States, passengers are charged a $6 international departure tax, $5 for immigration processing, $5 for Customs and a $2 agricultural inspection fee. In addition, some airlines levy a security surcharge. When departing foreign countries and returning to the United States, passengers may also face local taxes and/or surcharges imposed by the particular country, airport or individual airline involved.

One potential problem for travelers leaving a foreign country is that they may have to pay an airport departure tax at the airport in the local currency, which can mean exchanging traveler's checks or cash at the last minute--unless, that is, you've planned ahead and put aside the appropriate amount.

Some countries allow passengers to prepay the airport departure tax while still at their hotel. Bermuda allows passengers to use a major credit card at the airport to pay its airport departure tax.

The airlines are currently working on a way to to automatically break down and list all the taxes paid for each flight in an expanded section of tax information on each ticket. Developing such an automated procedure, which could involve a computer-generated notice or coupon, is expected to take at least another year.

It is hoped that through increased consumer awareness, pressure can be brought to influence governments around the world to decrease the steady rise of taxes hitting airline passengers. According to IATA, close to 200 countries worldwide are currently imposing a total of more than 600 taxes and fees on air passengers.

The airline campaign also hopes to get across the point to consumers that some government-imposed taxes are incorporated directly into the fare, with no input from the airlines. IATA also argues that some of these taxes are for functions such as customs immigration and security, which should be funded by the governments and not the airlines and their passengers.

"As governments look for sources of revenue, they think airlines are big moneymakers, but airline losses in the last two years virtually wiped out all the profits of airlines since commercial aviation began," said Roger Cohen, vice president of government affairs for the ATA.

Airlines were staring in the face of various state legislative proposals last year that could have meant adding about $500 million in operational costs. Most of it was defeated. However, about $70 million to $80 million worth of legislation was enacted, and the sad truth for consumers is that the air traveler will eventually pay for these extra costs in the form of higher fares.

As an example of a so-called "hidden" tax, or at least not well-known, Cohen cited fuel taxes that states and cities can levy on airlines, which in turn are passed along to passengers through surcharges. The state of Florida uses such a fuel surcharge ($2 to consumers), as do the cities of Boston ($2.50), Denver ($2) and Chicago ($5).

More hidden taxes: Arlington County, which includes Washington's National Airport, has extended its restaurant meals tax to cover in-flight catering kitchens at the airport. "This means airlines pay local restaurant meal taxes for meals boarded at National Airport, though these meals are not eaten until passengers are perhaps 35,000 feet aloft and out of Arlington County," Cohen said.

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