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New TSA security fee hike will make airfare more expensive

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TSA agent checks a passenger ticket. (AP)

Air travel is getting more expensive. Starting today, the Transportation Security Administration is raising the mandatory security fee put into place after Sept. 11, 2011.   The government isn’t just raising it, it’s more than doubling fees for some travelers -- and redefining the definition of a flight.  Read on.  

Under the previous security fee structure, consumers paid $2.50 for a single leg and there was a cap of $5 on any one-way ticket, so fliers paid at most $10 for any round-trip flight.  The new fee raises each leg to $5.60 and puts no cap on the total you can pay based on layovers.  Any flight that has a connection with a layover of more than four hours domestically will incur an additional $5.60 fee.  For example, if you booked a round-trip ticket that includes two connections lasting more than four hours, the TSA will hit  you with a total fee of $22.40.  

Who will feel it the most?

Business travelers who fly non-stop routes, and travelers in secondary markets requiring connections, will see the biggest impact.  Business travelers are already being pounded by rising airfares as limited competition and last minute bookings drive fares higher. This will simply add to their burden.  

Those in secondary markets have seen the greatest fare hikes over the past few years as carriers have dropped non-stop flights and deployed more regional aircraft requiring connections.  Their costs are set to rise as many of these connections could end up counting as multiple stand-alone flights, based on layover times.

Budget travelers will also feel the pinch.  Many travelers, in search of the lowest leisure fare, endure multiple connections and long layovers to save a few dollars.  They will be hit by this increase as each of those segments can now count as a separate flight resulting in fees that can be five times higher than previously charged.  

The changing definition of a flight

The biggest issue tied to this latest air travel fee comes down to the definition of a one-way flight.  The TSA is redefining it based on an arbitrary layover time of four hours on  a domestic flight or 12 hours in a domestic airport while traveling to an international destination.  These flights will be now be considered a separate leg of your trip, and you’ll be hit with an extra $5.60 fee. This has many travelers wondering if the TSA has the right to change the definition of a one-way flight when the airlines still treat it as a one-way ticket.  

Taxation without representation?

Others are upset about how this increase is actually going to be used.  If you think the new revenue generated by this fee increase is going to make air travel safer, think again.  Congress, which voted for this increase fee, has indicated that it is to reduce the overall deficit, not necessarily go to better airport security.  

Taxing travelers in this manner is nothing new for local or federal government officials.  It’s the kind of tax that doesn’t affect their local constituents in a direct way so it avoids the kind of backlash that is typical of income or property tax hikes.  It’s also why travelers are an easy target for this kind of hit, reminding many of the phrase: taxation without representation.  

Some tips to reduce what you pay in fees.

Travelers should look to book one-way flights whenever possible, limiting their round-trip TSA fees to a total of $10.  If you have to connect, watch those connection times and look for combinations that avoid that four-hour mark.

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Mark Murphy is a noted travel expert, author and founder of TravelPulse.com.  You can follow him on Twitter at @murphytravels.