Airlines and airports in feud over proposed fee hike

Obama proposes raising passenger facility charge from $4.50 to $8

Airline executives and airport operators usually have a cordial relationship, working hand in hand to keep travelers on the go.

That is, until someone suggests raising the passenger facility charge that is added to airfares to pay for airport upgrades. Airport managers say they need the money to modernize their facilities, but airlines worry that a fee increase will push down demand.

The two groups have been in a bitter war of words since the Obama administration proposed increasing the fee to $8 a traveler per flight segment, up from $4.50.

The airline industry took the first shot at the airports, releasing a survey last week of more than 1,000 voters, showing that 82% oppose the fee increase. Airlines for America, the trade group for the nation’s carriers, also wrote to congressional leaders in opposition to the increase, saying airports already have money to make upgrades.

“The proposed increase in the PFC is just another tax increase that the government is trying to force on consumers who already pay too much in taxes when they fly,” Jeff Smisek, United Airlines president and chief executive, said of the proposed fee increase.

Airport operators responded to the survey with a Youtube video that describes the poll as “hot air.”

In the video, the Airports Council International-North America and the American Assn. of Airport Executives pointed to previous surveys that show that 70% of travelers hate baggage fees charged by airlines and 64% of fliers are annoyed by uncomfortable seats on planes.

“Time for a new poll: Who is annoyed when airlines don’t tell their customers the truth?” the airport operators said in the video.

The passenger facility charge has been capped at $4.50 since 2000. It raised $2.8 billion in 2013, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. If adopted, the $8 fee would raise an additional $2.3 billion for airports in 2016, according to the GAO.

Congress and the president must agree to a budget by Sept. 30 or face a government shutdown when the fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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