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Fee change is planned for airlines

An airline trade group criticizes a lawmaker's proposal to change the so-called Sept. 11 security fee from $2.50 for every segment of a trip to $5 for each way, regardless of the number of stops.

March 26, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • The airlines themselves are responsible for two rate hikes this year that have increased fares as much as $30 per round trip. Above, a TSA agent checks an ID at Los Angeles International Airport.
The airlines themselves are responsible for two rate hikes this year that… (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles…)

A legislative proposal to increase the airline security tax is disappointing and shortsighted, an airline trade group said last week, claiming the higher fee could severely hurt the industry as it rebounds from the recession.

The reaction from Airlines for America, the Washington trade group, came in response to a budget proposal by House Budget Committee ChairmanPaul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). Among other budget ideas, he proposed changing the so-called Sept. 11 security fee from $2.50 for every segment of a trip to $5 for each way, regardless of the number of stops.

The chairman's proposal calls for the same airline fee increase that the White House has requested to help pay for airport security costs but differs in other ways from the Obama administration's 2013 budget. The increase would raise about $700 million a year.

"We cannot continue to put more taxes on airline passengers — who already pay more than $60 in taxes on a typical $300 round-trip ticket — with this disappointing and shortsighted approach that ultimately will discourage business travel and tourism," said Nicholas E. Calio, chief executive of the trade group.

The airlines themselves are responsible for two rate hikes this year that have increased fares as much as $30 per round trip. Under a new law that requires airlines to wrap taxes and fees into advertised rates, it is now difficult for consumers to tell who is increasing airfares — the airlines or the government.

It does matter who is raising airfares, said John Heimlich, chief economist for the airline trade group.

If airlines raise airfares, the carriers can use the extra money to improve services, such as buying new planes or adding routes, he said. But if the government raises rates through new fees, the higher fares will discourage passengers from flying without benefiting the airlines, Heimlich said.

"The bottom line is who gets to keep the revenue and who benefits," he said.

For travel savings, Albuquerque looks good

Despite the overall increase in airfares across the country, the cost of flying to a few places, such as Palm Springs and Chicago, has dropped.

A study released last week by the travel website Hotwire unveiled the five U.S. cities where airfares, hotel rates and car rental costs fell the most in March compared with a year earlier.

Hotel rates in Atlantic City had the biggest decline, falling 21% to an average of $90 a night for a four-star hotel, according to the website. It attributed the drop to the opening of new hotels during a slow time of the tourism season.

Airfares from anywhere in the U.S. to Palms Springs and Chicago fell 13% compared with the same period last year, according to Hotwire. Round-trip flights to Palm Springs sold for an average of $308 in March, while flights to Chicago were $234, according to the website.

Meanwhile, travelers can enjoy the nation's biggest drop in car rental rates in Boston, where rates fell an average of 60% to $17 a day in March, according to Hotwire. Washington came in second in the ranking, with car rental rates in the nation's capital declining 58% to $20 a day.

But the biggest savings may be for travel to Albuquerque, which twice made the list of the top five cities. Airfares to Albuquerque dropped an average of 11% to $330, and car rental rates fell 46% to $20 a day, according to Hotwire.

How much pollution does your flight produce?

If you are worried about the environmental effect of your travel, a Vermont technology company has come up with an app that can help you choose which flight emits less pollution.

The eco-minded tech firm Brighter Planet developed an app called Careplane that uploads into your Chrome, Safari or Firefox browser. It launches when you search for flights on specific travel websites but works particularly well with Kayak. The app calculates pollution from each flight based on historic flight data, including plane weight, the average percentage of filled seats and fuel efficiency.

When you search for a flight, the app will post the total pounds of greenhouse gases produced by the flight.

For example, a nonstop round-trip from Los Angeles International Airport to Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport on small regional jets will generate 618 pounds of greenhouse gases.

In contrast, a nonstop round-trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco on a larger carrier will generate 730 pounds of pollution, according to the program.

Said Brighter Planet spokesman Robbie Adler: "Where cost and timing are roughly equal, anyone who is environmentally minded can choose a flight and consider the environmental impact."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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