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Another Voice: Raising fee would put new burden on air travelers

By Manny Alicandro

If some Congressional Democrats get their way, air travelers will get stuck with a whopping new fee to pay for a long-awaited modernization of the nation’s aging infrastructure. And disturbingly enough, some Republicans are throwing their support behind what is effectively a hidden tax.

Make no mistake about it: The plan, if enacted, will make air travel more expensive, particularly for individuals living in far-flung regions of the country like Western New York.

The proposal calls for increasing what is known as the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), currently a $4.50 tax that Americans pay each time they fly in order to fund airport improvement projects nationwide. Some members of Congress want to more than double it.

And a handful of Republicans are among those members looking to stick it to air travelers. Take Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence. He recently said he was all for raising the PFC to as much as $9, even as he refused to call the plan exactly what it is, a stealth tax.

“Those are user fees,” he recently said. “I won’t even call it a tax.”

Increasing the PFC will add up quickly for families and those who fly often for business, especially for those in Collins’ district and throughout New York. This is because travelers pay the PFC every time they board a flight, including their connecting flights.

Many travelers in rural areas who rely on smaller airports will be hit disproportionately hard by a PFC increase because they have access to fewer direct flights than those closer to major airports in big cities.

For instance, a family of four flying for vacation and using a connecting flight would pay an additional $144 in PFCs. For many New York families, that means less money for dinner, a rental car or an extra excursion.

Collins is not the only Republican in Congress supporting this stealth tax increase. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., recently claimed that increasing PFCs on travelers is necessary for making upgrades at airports.

And here’s a reality these lawmakers aren’t mentioning: airports across the country are already collecting more in PFC revenue than ever before — including a record $3.5 billion in 2018. And airports are currently sitting on nearly $15 billion that could be used to make infrastructure upgrades without burdening travelers.

In addition, airports already have a dedicated funding system called the Airport and Airway Trust Fund. This fund holds nearly $7 billion of uncommitted funds that airports across the country can use for improvements.

While both Democrats and Republicans agree on the need for an infrastructure bill, compromise should not be found at the expense of travelers.

Manny Alicandro, an attorney, ran for New York City public advocate in February.

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