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Published: Wednesday, 6/26/2002

Added airline-ticket costs begin to put a crimp in travelers' style

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Since Sept. 11, the cost of a roundtrip airline ticket in the United States has risen $12 to $58, plus there may be new add-on fees. For a family of four, that's potentially $230 more on the price of tickets that wasn't there 10 months ago.

''The complaints come in, but that's just the way it is,'' said Polly Caumartin, vice president of Central Travel in Toledo.

''Frequently, we get people saying they booked their ticket online and it said the ticket was $300 and when they completed the transaction, it was $365.'' Some airlines also routinely bump up the price of tickets - often without warning - with fuel surcharges of $10 or more to cover sudden price hikes in the cost of airline fuel. Foreign airports, such as Vancouver's International Airport, and many in the Caribbean, also tack on a ''departure" or "airport improvement" tax.

''Unfortunately, these fees and taxes really add to the cost of tickets and when airlines fares are advertised as their base fare, the customer can be misled to the costs,'' Ms. Caumartin said.

For Northwest Airlines, for example, the taxes and fees on a $270 round-trip airline ticket are $69, up from $27 a decade earlier. About two-thirds of those fees are paid directly by passengers.

Most travelers know that a new security fee of $2.50 for departures or arrivals ($5 roundtrip for a nonstop flight) was added to tickets to offset the cost of new airport security measures in the wake of the September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Equally significant but not as well publicized were moves by the Federal Aviation Administration in April, 2001 and in January that increased two regulated fees.

A ''passenger segment fee,'' which funds the FAA's Aviation Trust Fund, jumped to $3 in January from $1 a year earlier. The charge is levied for each takeoff and landing combination. The FAA last year raised to $4.50 from $3 the cap on ''passenger facility charges,'' which airports add to each ticket to pay for improvements. Toledo Express, Detroit Metro, Columbus International, and Cleveland John Hopkins airports charge the fee.

The charges add up. For example, on a $160 base fare from Toledo to Jacksonville, Fla., via Cincinnati, a traveler pays a $12 sales tax, $10 security tax, $13.50 passenger facility fee, and a $12 segment fee for a total of $207.50. A year ago, the same ticket would have cost $185. Booking through a travel agent can add another $15 to $35 fee, to make up for the agent's discontinued commissions from some airlines.

Paul Ruden, a spokesman for the American Society of Travel Agents of Alexandria, Va., said agents have to be savvy at finding customers discounts on hotels, rental cars, and entertainment, to try to make the new fee.

Pat Johnson, director of operations for Atlas World Travel in Sylvania Township, said many complaints about added fees and taxes are from people using the Internet or who see advertisement that quote base fares.

''When we quote a fare, we will quote $226 and tell them that includes all the little goodies,'' she said.

But if you look at advertisements in the newspaper showing a low base price for a ticket, the fees and taxes are in small type at the bottom, she said.

More fees may be on the way. Ms. Caumartin said the government has mandated airlines to begin inspecting carry-on items starting in December. That will mean hiring more people and using machines, which in turn likely will mean higher fees, she said.

Continual fee hikes are going to hurt the industry, Mr. Ruden said.

''I think it's a dangerous mistake to just keep piling taxes on it and saying users should keep paying for it," he said. "In the end some people are going to stop using the system if this keeps up and then where will we be?''



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