With the airline industry filing a lawsuit and computer glitches leading to travelers being overcharged, the Transportation Security Administration’s recent security fee increase has been anything but smooth.
The fee hike is still fresh—and so are the problems the change is generating.
About a month ago, a congressionally mandated increase in Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security fees that travelers pay on flights went into effect. Since then, there have been technical implementation challenges as well as claims that some passengers are getting significantly overcharged. The problems have led to a lawsuit against the agency. More details:
A legal challenge: In a lawsuit filed last month, Airlines for America (A4A) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) argue that the TSA is disregarding “statutory text and clear congressional intent” in the way it is charging the higher fees. The associations claim that TSA is ignoring a cap on fees for round-trip flights, as well as improperly charging fees on international flights into the U.S. with domestic legs. In the complaint [PDF], the groups note that Congress changed the legislative language regarding the fees but did not intend to change the cap. “TSA’s rule may have been a reasonable interpretation of the statute when the focus was on enplanements, but it is a wholly untenable interpretation of the amended statutory language, which now focuses on where passengers’ one-way trips originate.”
Requests for delays ignored: The suit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, came after A4A and the Travel Technology Association had repeatedly asked TSA to delay the fee changes so that they could ensure proper implementation. According to USA Today, TSA argued that the vast majority of the higher security fees would be calculated correctly and that overcharged travelers would be able to seek refunds, but delaying the fee increase could hurt the federal budget. (Revenue from the fee increase, passed as part of Congress’ budget compromise last year, is to go toward helping pay down the federal deficit.)
Glitches leading to higher charges: Sabre Travel Network reports that TSA fees on 1 percent of all tickets—around 300,000 per month—include overcharges due to computer glitches. The problem most seriously affects domestic passengers in places outside the continental U.S., such as Hawaii and Alaska, along with those entering from foreign countries. In comments on the changes, A4A General Counsel David Berg said that TSA had discounted the challenges caused by the pricing change, which he said “were extremely complex and required extensive changes to existing systems.”
The airlines aren’t alone in their frustration: Almost 600 people commented on the security fee increase during a TSA comment period, nearly all opposing it.