Begich Objects to Unfair Air Travel Fees for Alaskans, TSA Relents
Senator Forces TSA to Accommodate Rural Alaskans in Rule Changes
U.S. Senator Mark Begich welcomed news today that, at his urging, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) backed off its plans to implement a fee increase that would have unfairly affected Alaskan travelers, especially those from rural communities.
At issue is a provision in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 that TSA interpreted, incorrectly Begich contends, as a change in the overall cap of the air transportation fee. Begich noted this error in his May 15 letter to U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson and TSA Administrator John Pistole. In the letter, Begich warned DHS and TSA against implementing the fee increase calling it “unacceptable” and “based on a flawed interpretation.”
“I let the TSA know I wouldn’t stand by while they implemented a rule that would have meant unfair increases to airfare for Alaskans,” said Begich. “The proposed change would have meant an additional fee for every stopover on a flight. Alaskans, who often require multiple flights to get to their destinations, could have seen increases of more than $20 per ticket. No way. I let TSA know that this was unacceptable.”
In response to Begich’s objections, the TSA is submitting an interim final rule (IFR) to the Federal Register to restructure the September 11 security fee to offset TSA costs for providing civil aviation security services as required by the Bipartisan Budget Act. The change allows rural Alaskans 12 hours per stopover before an extra fee is charged, versus four hours for domestic travel within the Lower 48.
Begich’s response to the proposed fare increase for Alaskans was swift and persistent. In addition to the letter of objection sent to Secretary Johnson and Administrator Pistole, Begich brought up the issue during a private meeting with Office of Management and Budget director nominee Shaun Donovan and also pressed Donovan publicly on this issue during the HSGAC nomination hearing on June 11.
For the purposes of clarification, the new rule defines a one-way trip as “continuous air transportation during which a stopover does not occur.” A stopover occurs if the break in travel is greater than (a) four hours for continental interstate or intrastate air transportation; (b) 12 hours for non-continental (including Alaska, Hawaii and the territories) interstate or intrastate air transportation; and (c) 12 hours for foreign air transportation. The one-way trip definition is only slightly modified from the definition proposed by the industry in 2002 and used for imposition of the fee since the regulations took effect. The stopover definition is a modification of that proposed by the industry. In the rule, TSA stated that “distinguishing between continental and non-continental air transportation recognizes that travel involving the non-contiguous States, territories, and possessions is frequently more like international travel than domestic due to the breaks in travel for connecting flights.
The rule also noted, “TSA is specifically interested in comments regarding the impact to rural communities.”