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Is the Recent TSA Fee Hike Illegal?

Last week, the fees imposed by the TSA on airline tickets increased from $2.50 per segment, up to $5.00 each way, to $5.60 each way, plus an additional $5.60 for flights with a connection exceeding four hours domestically, or 12 hours for international flights.

In a rare show of unanimity, the increase to what’s known as the “9/11 Security Fee,” part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013, has been disputed and disparaged by the airlines themselves, as well as by consumer groups.

By scrapping the previous $10 cap for a round-trip ticket, and extending the fee’s applicability to flights originating outside the U.S., the new fees in some cases will double or triple. One of the TSA’s own examples depicts a multi-stop trip with taxes totaling $33.60.

In a notoriously price-sensitive business, the resulting spikes in ticket prices would significantly undermine demand for travel. That at least is the airlines’ overriding concern.

On the airlines’ behalf, two airline-support groups, Airlines for America (A4A) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) have filed suit against the TSA, alleging that the TSA’s new pricing structure disregards Congress’s original intent in two areas.

First, the suit contends that Congress never envisioned a cap-less system, and that the TSA, in doing away with the fee cap, is unlawfully overruling the legislative branch’s wishes.

Second, the suit takes issue with the imposition of fees on trips originating overseas, again arguing that the TSA’s actions are inconsistent with the intent of Congress.

In the end, the suit contends, the TSA’s rogue actions will cause the airlines “significant injury.”

Consumers may well find themselves supporting the lawsuit, in spite of its rather narrow focus. But they should oppose the fees on broader grounds as well. In particular, much of the new fee revenue will go into the U.S. Treasury’s general fund, rather than to the TSA. That means that the fees are effectively a general tax selectively imposed on air travelers. And that makes these fees not only unfair but misleading as well.

Reader Reality Check

Is this any way to run a government?

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This article originally appeared on

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