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US Air Passenger Taxes Are Sky High, Report Finds

Jun 18th 2015
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Between the prices of fares and baggage fees imposed by some carriers, air travel can cost Americans an arm and a leg. Now, a new report from global accountancy network UHY found that air passenger taxes in the United States are among the highest in the world.

The United States imposes a levy of $23 on short-haul flights (domestic flights 400 miles or less) and $28 on long-haul flights leaving the country, which include transportation taxes, segment taxes, and 9/11 security fees. The US tax on short-haul flights is the highest among the G7 economies, the report found, and the long-haul flight levy is one of the most expensive.

Of the taxes and compulsory government charges imposed per passenger on an economy-class flight in 20 countries around the world, the global average is $23 on a short-haul flight and $53 on a long-haul flight, with several nations not charging any air passenger taxes, according to the study.

The most expensive taxes are for long-haul flights departing from a Russian airport ($272), where unlike many other countries, airline tickets are subject to sales taxes.

Rick David, COO of UHY Advisors, a member of the UHY network of firms, said high taxes on flying in the United States hurt airlines, business users, and consumers.

“Countries and cities that are expensive to reach lose out on tourism,” he said in a written statement. “High air taxes can also be harmful to businesses, as in many commercial relationships there is simply no substitute for face-to-face contact. For smaller businesses, the cost of flying to see customers may be a serious consideration in deciding whether or not to expand into new markets, especially overseas – it can lock them out of globalization. Taxes in the United States can add as much as 15 percent to the cost of flying, so they can pose a meaningful additional burden on budgets.”

UHY notes that although US travelers see high taxes and other charges listed on flights to European destinations, the bulk of these costs are fuel charges listed by the airlines – as European air passenger taxes are generally lower than in the United States, and several countries do not charge them at all.

Within the European Union, the United Kingdom has the highest flight taxes: An adult with an economy short-haul ticket flying from a UK airport will pay $20 in tax. For a first- or business-class ticket, the amount of taxes paid increases to $41.

Although airport fees are usually passed on to the consumer, airlines often gripe that the charges amount to an abuse of an airport’s monopoly status if it has a particularly favored geographic location near a major city, according to UHY.

Airlines also add their own charges, such as fuel charges, which many consumer groups argue should be included in the cost of the flight.

“For consumers, taxes and fees are confusing; they mean the final ticket price is usually a shock,” David said. “They also add to the headache of working out how much extra a flight booked using air miles will actually cost for these required fees.

“In the United States and around the world, the issue of complex charges is an area where far greater progress needs to be made to ensure better transparency and competition,” he added. “Businesses and consumers would greatly benefit if regulators and tax authorities kept aviation taxes low and ensured that charges were more transparent.”

Related article:

Study: Airlines Get $1 Billion in Fuel Tax Breaks Per Year

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