Congress to investigate airline fees … but not for your benefit

Congress is digging into all those new airline fees. Extra bags, special check-in situations … you name it. Before you start cheering on our lawmakers, though, you should know that they aren’t doing this from a sense of consumer advocacy. Frankly, Congress doesn’t give a damn how much you pay for air travel. But, it does care how you pay. Why? A cash-strapped government is wondering if it’s leaving money on the table.

When you look at your receipt, the line with “taxes” has never been lost on you, right? Well, the add-ons aren’t included in this number: Congress has a tax on airfare, not all the other stuff. So, for the airlines, this has been a tax-free revenue stream, one that’s been crucial to helping the already bruised airlines survive the current recession.

Yet, is it really just airfare in another form? That’s what Congress wants to know. Even if this is a different form of revenue, do you think it will be left untouched? Of course not! The government needs money, and there’s nothing stopping it from passing a new bill to tax the extra services. How much resistance would be raised?

Think about it.

The average person, even if traveling frequently for personal reasons, wouldn’t be hit too hard by the tax on the fees. If a $10 bag surcharge were taxed at 30% (just to pick a random and unreasonably ugly number) and a passenger flew weekly, he’d rack up $152 in taxes on the additional fees … and that’s assuming he needs to check the extra bag and did so every week. If faced with this or a higher income tax, how would you ask your congressman to vote?

Add it all up, and there’s some tax money to be had. The airline industry has pulled in more than $3 billion this year from the extra fees we all love to hate. If they were taxed at the same rate as fares — a much more reasonable 7.5% — $225 million in tax revenue would be generated. That’s not a trivial number.

The fees aren’t going to go away, and if all goes as it seems, a new tax will be here to stay, as well.