Numerous travel agents are offended that the U.S. airlines are seeking their help in fighting tax bills pending in Congress. In a way, we can't blame them.

The airlines that inflicted the caps, leading to bankruptcies, downsizings and hardships -- and that many retailers believe are ready to put them out of business -- want their support?

The Coalition for Fair FAA Funding, for example, is appealing to agents to fight for a House-approved bill designed to provide tax relief for the larger airlines at the expense of the smaller carriers.

The legislation would reduce the current 10% domestic ticket tax to 7.5% and add a $2 per passenger fee for each leg of a flight.

So it would decrease the amount the big airlines and their higher-paying passengers pay, shifting more of the cost for the traffic-control system to regional carriers.


The big airlines also are asking agents to oppose a Senate bill that would impose a 10% tax on domestic legs of international trips. It would encourage U.S. travelers to fly on foreign airlines. U.S. lines are ballistic over this one.

If enacted, the Senate measure could boost the price of a ticket by hundreds of dollars and cost travelers nearly $1 billion annually. It is hard to believe that Congress would penalize U.S. airlines in this way.

Although the House version would omit the 10% tax on domestic legs of international trips, it would hike the departure fee from $6 to $31 on a roundtrip ticket. The Senate's departure fee would go to $16.

We would hope that agents would protest the taxes -- if not for their own protection, then as advocates for their clients. Everyone in the industry ought to be alarmed by proposals to boost the departure fees to $16 or to $31.

If consumers are confronted with the "nasty surprise," as United calls it, guess who will be hurt too? It will be the trip sold by agents (not the airlines) that will be in jeopardy.

It will be the employees of every company throughout the industry who will suffer if business is lost. The caps were bad enough, but these bills will make life worse.

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