No Refund of FAA Taxes

When the FAA was shut down for two weeks by Congressional inaction on the FAA Reauthorization Bill, the agency also lost authorization to collect their normal 7.5% ticket tax, $3.70 tax on each segment of travel, and $16.30 international arrival/departure tax. Although you pay the tax at time of ticket purchase, it is legally only collected at the time the ticket is used. So, if you bought your ticket before July 22 but flew after that date, you were charged taxes that the FAA could not collect.

In our last newsletter, we reported an IRS statement saying that people in that situation might be due a refund. However, the August 10th IRS news release on the issue made it clear that this isn’t the case. When Congress passed the FAA Bill Extension on August 8th, they retroactively reinstated the taxes. It’s as if the interruption never occurred.

So, there will be no refunds. On the other hand, the IRS has decided that it will not retroactively collect taxes from those of you who bought tickets during the two-week shutdown period.

The House is also considering a bill to pay the 4,000 laid-off FAA workers for their furlough time. However, the tens of thousands of construction workers laid off when FAA construction projects were put on hold are just out of luck.

Remember all those airlines that simply raised their prices to pocket the uncollected taxes? Some airlines returned prices to normal quickly and some were dragging their feet. While we were very disappointed when Southwest participated in this scam, we are glad to note that they were among the first to roll prices back. Almost all domestic carriers are starting the process. As Kate said in the article, we’re pleasantly surprised.


Delta and American Redefine Customer Focus

After a period of demonstrable improvement in Delta Airlines’ customer focus, the airline has chosen a new definition of the term. As reported by three FlyersRights members, Delta imposed new rules on their frequent flier program that have left our members fuming.

Frequent flier programs are designed to build customer loyalty by rewarding those who spend the most money with the airline. However, we know that most airlines will push the envelope as far as they can when it comes to truly valuing our business.

Effective August 15, Delta’s frequent fliers face a 72-hour barrier to changing or cancelling “award” tickets. Travelers needing to change tickets for any reason will simply lose the miles they spent on the trip. Moreover, confirmed upgrades secured through frequent flier miles will cause mileage loss if the upgrade cannot be confirmed on a changed flight.

FlyersRights member Jason K summed it up perfectly when he said:

So we get hit with the change fee to rebook the ticket, lose the upgrade, and they don’t refund the miles we used to confirm the upgrade in advance on the original ticket.

Delta has also made the ruling retroactive, so even tickets booked before August 15th are subject to the new policy.

American also displayed an interesting new definition of the term. A traveler bought, through AA.com, a first-class, round-trip ticket from Hong Kong to New York on Cathay Pacific. The customer, an active blogger known as The Points Guy, was amazed to learn that American insisted that he had purchased a coach ticket.

Notified of the error, American offered some re-routing options that The Point Guy found unacceptable, all the while holding onto his $3,700. When he pushed them for recompense, he received no response via phone or e-mail. Logging into his AA account, he was amazed to discover that the ticket was cancelled. As he observed, AA apparently doesn’t charge itself cancellation fees, and provides that “service” to its customers free of charge when it suits its purposes.

Customer focus?

Tarmac Delays Up-No DOT Action

USA Today reported that 14 flights spent more than three hours on the tarmac in June, compared to only three in June of 2010. This marks the second month in a row of double-digit extended delays. While the TSA says it issued a couple of warning letters, no fines have been levied to date.

“A rule without teeth is meaningless,” says Hanni, executive director of FlyersRights.org. “If (the department) doesn’t impose fines, tarmac delays will continue to increase. Airlines are going to push the envelope because they’re not scared.”

Kate had a great interview with WWL’s Garland Robinette last week. She discussed this issue at length, explained the pending DOT rules, and answered call-in questions from listeners. Her wide-ranging comments on everything from baggage fees to tarmac delays to TSA abuses make this radio interview a primer on the full range of airline passenger rights issues.

Another TSA Pilot Program

A new program began last week at Chicago O’Hare Airport. The Known Crewmember program will allow pilots to bypass the TSA strip and grope lines. As we’ve pointed out many times, pilots are subject to rigorous background checks, and fly the trip in the seats with the aircraft’s controls, , so frisking them is just plain silly.

In belated recognition of that obvious truth, TSA officers will now positively identify the identity and employment status of flight crew members and deem that “good enough.” At this time, the program is limited to pilots, but the Airline Pilots Association urges the TSA to include flight attendants in the future. FlyersRights supports that suggestion.

“The War Is Not Over”

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