Posted on: February 25, 2013
It is said that some politicians get elected or appointed, come to the Nation's Capital and then never leave, even when their tenure is over.
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The same is true of certain bad ideas that never seem to go away. However, we may finally be getting rid of one of them: the notion that airports ought to be free to impose "unlimited" head taxes or Passenger Facility Charges (PFC) on air travelers.
We're not sure where this one originated, but Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and a few of his pals on the Senate Commerce Committee have been kicking it around at least since 2007. It last showed up in the Senate version of the FAA reauthorization bill last year, but it didn't make the final cut.
Ever since Congress allowed airports to levy taxes on travelers, in the form of PFCs, some airports have bristled that Congress capped the amount, initially at $3 and now at $4.50. Airlines, which collect the tax at the time of ticket purchase, have lobbied hard to keep the cap, on the grounds that a higher fee would make air travel more expensive and less desirable.
Out of this conflict arose the idea of a pilot test where a half-dozen airports could charge whatever they liked, so long as they collect it themselves. But while the idea didn't pass, its ghost lived on in a Senate directive to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on the feasibility of using alternate collection methods.
In other words, the Senate asked for a report on how to do something that Congress decided not to do.
Not surprisingly, the GAO found that alternate methods such as payment kiosks, Internet payments or other approaches are inferior to what the industry is already doing and would just create another inconvenience for passengers.
Note to the World's Greatest Deliberative Body: Now that we know that there's no good way to do what we're not going to do, can we go ahead and not do it?