Senate panel approves airline security fee hike

A Democratic-controlled Senate panel Tuesday approved a $2.50 increase in airline security fees that would double the per-passenger fee for those taking nonstop flights.

The move by the Senate Appropriations Committee would increase the fee on a nonstop round-trip flight from $5 to $10. Fees on a one-way, nonstop ticket would increase from $2.50 to $5. Passengers who change planes to reach their destinations would continue to pay $5 each way.

A similar move last year failed because of opposition by Republicans controlling the House and the current effort faces long odds in an election year.

A move by panel Republicans to kill the higher fee -- which is attached to a homeland security measure funding the Transportation Security Administration -- failed on a 15-15 vote.

The author of the proposal, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said that the current fee structure only covers about one-fourth of TSA's airport security costs and that people who fly should bear a greater cost of TSA's $7.6 billion budget -- rather than taxpayers as a whole.

Supporters of the fee point out that airlines are layering fee after fee upon their customers and that baggage fees in particular place a greater strain on TSA resources since people are checking far more luggage that needs to be screened at TSA checkpoints.

"The fee has not been increased in 10 years and of course the expenses for TSA continue to go up and it is a question of whether the general taxpayer should pay this or whether the people that actually use the airlines (should)."

But Republicans led by Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas said the fee would hurt an airline industry already reeling from a weak economy and high fuel prices. She noted that multi-passenger families would bear the greatest burden.

"Aviation is already taxed at the highest rate of any industry in the country," Hutchison said. "The industry's federal tax burden on a typical $300 round-trip ticket has nearly tripled since 1972 from $22 to $61."