How quickly US presidential preferences can change! In the White House budget blueprint released on March 16, the Trump administration calls for air travelers to pay an additional $1 each way in fees to cover the cost of airport security. That’s an abrupt turn from what the president told airport and airline officials when he hosted them at the White House on Feb. 9.
At that meeting, the CEO of the Tampa International Airport, Joseph Lopano, spoke about the challenges to improving airport infrastructure, noting it’s been 16 years since the last increase in the passenger-facility charge. That’s a fee that airports can put toward an array of projects related to safety, airport capacity, and noise reduction.
While the $4.50 passenger-facility charge is different than the security fee that the administration proposes to hike, Trump’s reply is notable, because it suggests he has now made a near complete flip-flop in his position on tacking on new costs for air travelers. He said at the meeting:
“The problem is, I don’t like raising fees or taxes. I’ll be honest. I mean, we’re spending all this money overseas, we’re giving away trillions of dollars to all these countries. All of the countries that trade with us are ripping us off. The last thing we have to do is raise the fee.
I understand what you’re saying, but $4.50, it’s a lot when you look at all of the passengers. There are other ways of doing this…”
“Exactly,” United Airlines CEO Oscar Munez chimed in, as other participants around the table nodded in agreement with the president. Trump continued:
“…because you’re only hurting yourself, really. Eventually people are going to just stop flying because it’s very expensive with all the taxes. I mean, there are other ways. We’re spending so much money overseas, fighting wars, doing things, and, frankly, making horrible trade deals. So don’t worry about the money. I’ll be able to get the money.”
A video of the interaction is available on C-SPAN.
Through one lens, the proposed fee increase could be seen as a tax on the rich, as the typical air traveler is much wealthier than the typical taxpayer. But it’s unclear how much of the money collected would go toward security improvements. Currently, about one-third of security fee proceeds are diverted away from actual airport-security spending and is instead used to pay down the federal debt.