John Colon: Robbing the magic — how Congress may ground your family trip to Disney World

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It's not a tax, it's a 'user fee.' Same difference.

record number of travelers will take to the skies this summer, with legions flocking to Orlando, home to what Americans affectionately refer to as the most magical place on earth: Disney World. Regrettably, though, many travelers may be forced to cancel those plans.

A number of Democrats in Congress are proposing a misguided tax hike that, if approved, would saddle airline passengers with new, burdensome travel costs. But what’s most troubling about the Democratic proposal is that a handful of Republicans think it’s a good idea.

The Democratic plan calls for a dramatic increase in what is known as the Passenger Facility Charge (PFC), a hidden tax on travelers that is intended to pay for renovation projects at airports around the country.

Most Americans have probably never heard of the so-called PFC, now set at about $4.50 per person for each leg of a flight. But if Democrats and a few wayward Republicans get their way, the PFC won’t be so obscure anymore. That’s because the PFC could soon be doubled and, in the process, impose an additional cost of $144 on a family of four for a connecting flight.

It’s remarkable to hear otherwise sensible Republicans like Rep. Chris Collins of New York publicly justify their decision to join Democrats on this misguided effort to fleece American travelers.

Collins won’t even level with the public about what the PFC actually is, a hidden tax.

“Those are user fees,” he said.

But let’s not get caught up in semantics, a longtime refuge of politicians who lack the courage of their convictions. Let’s focus on the substance of this matter. The bottom line is that there is no legitimate rationale for increasing this tax – or, as Collins terms it, user fee.

As I mentioned, airports already have a pot of money to fund modernization projects. And that pot is growing every day, courtesy of, well, taxpayers. Consider this: airports have an uncommitted balance of nearly $7 billion in a so-called aviation trust fund – an amount the Congressional Budget Office has projected will rise to a staggering $47.7 billion by the end of the decade.

The current renovation of Orlando International Airport is proof that the current system isn’t broken and that funds are readily available to cover construction costs. Without any increase to the PFC, the airport is undergoing a $2.8 billion project to add 19 gates, automate screening lanes located in TSA checkpoints, upgrade the baggage-claim system, and improve the overall passenger experience. Officials say the new South Terminal project will attract an additional 11 million passengers. Now that’s a hefty new stream of income for airports.

Investments like Orlando’s have spurred a race to the top as airports across the country compete to create the best facility. In fact, in the last decade alone, over $130 billion of capital projects have been completed, are underway, or have been approved at the nation’s 30 largest airports.

At the end of the day, not only is the tax hike – um, user fee – unnecessary, but it will fall squarely on the backs of Americans who already struggle to afford the cost of a flight, even with fares at historic lows.

Moreover, increasing the PFC will discourage air travel and force families who rely on low-cost flight options to stay home. And given the fact that my father spent nearly 40 years as a lead mechanic for Eastern Airlines, I can safely say this proposal will have a large economic impact, hurting local businesses – including rental-car companies, hotels, and office parks – that benefit directly from airport activity.

If Democrats and their Republican allies get the PFC hike they want, the summer vacation season will look awfully bleak for many travelers, including those hoping to visit the most magical place on earth.

___

John Colon is the Managing Principal of Sanderling Partners and a former gubernatorial appointment to the Florida Republican State Executive Committee.

Guest Author


10 comments

  • Artie

    June 3, 2019 at 6:30 pm

    Worried about people paying more to travel? Where was our illustrious author during session when more toll roads were authorized by Florida’s Republican legislature and governor? It’s alllmoosttt like this is a hit piece largely unrelated to “Florida Politics”

  • James

    June 4, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    Isn’t it over $100 per person per day to go to Disney? I don’t see how this is going to be THE deal-breaker for a family’s decision.

    • josh

      June 4, 2019 at 12:53 pm

      No, the extra $3 per passenger will stop them from spending $5K a Disney for their 4 night stay.

  • Noel

    June 4, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    The author of this article seems really bothered by the lack of transparency (read: dishonesty) of the politicians pushing the increase to the PFC…yet his premise for this article is that families won’t be able to visit Disney if the proposal passes. Classic example of pot meet kettle…actually – I think what the is author is doing is worse.

    A family of four on a connecting flight is ALREADY paying a PFC so they are already on the hook for $9/pp each direction…so $18/pp total round trip – that’s $72 bucks that they are ALREADY paying. So the proposed increase is only another $72 bucks, not the $144 he’s implying…complete intellectual dishonesty the way he couches it.

    Also, back in the 90’s when I worked in sales/ticketing/reservations – not every airport even charged a PFC. Is this still the case? I have to plead ignorance on this one but if it is still the case, his argument is even less true.

    So let’s go back to the $72 bucks extra (the real number, not his made up number). Disney costs between 109-129 a day. That 72 bucks represents only 55%-66% of a one day ticket to Disney. Seriously – freaking Disney costs over $100 bucks a day per person and this guy is carrying on about 4.50 extra per leg? Give me a break.

    Disney sucks anyway – who cares if fewer people go.

  • Brian

    June 4, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    It is funny how everyone is complaining about a PFC increase, some claim the Airports have soo much money already. This is a crock, the larger airports are flush with money but the smaller regional airports struggle to make improvements every year, a PFC increase would help the smaller airports. All these soo called experts and airlines were not complaining when the airlines added and raised baggage fees, come on some airlines charge you a fee for any bag you put under the plane. Airlines are making record profits while smaller airports are suffering, you want to complain about fees you need to start with the airlines first.

    • Noel

      June 6, 2019 at 2:09 pm

      You have a valid point about airlines making profits. However, if you study the period prior to these record profits you will find that there were record losses. It is just now balancing out and the cycle will down turn soon and they will be back to losses. They are just making hay while the sunshine‘s right now.

      Also, compare airfare today to that of 1976. You will find that it is much cheaper to fly today than it was 40 years ago despite staffing and fuel costs being exponentially higher today. It rings hollow when you complain about these extra fees when it cost $400 less to fly from LA to New York City today than it did 40 years ago.

      Airlines have brought air travel to the masses over the last four decades. They have allowed people to travel by air who Once had to take Greyhound. They have allowed people who used to only dream of trips to Europe to actually take those trips now. The traveling public has become way into and titled… Complaining about baggage fees while ignoring all of the advances and improvements that have been made over the last four decades… Tsk, tsk, tsk.

  • PFC is OK by me

    June 4, 2019 at 1:39 pm

    The PFC has been frozen at $4.50 per passenger since 2000. Over the same period, a one-day Disney park regular admission increased from $46.00 then to $125 today, according to allears.net. Hmmm..

  • Jimmy Ray

    June 4, 2019 at 6:20 pm

    John Colon as do many of his ilk engages in grossly inaccurate reporting coupled with bad math.

    The math in this statement does not seem to add up:
    “Most Americans have probably never heard of the so-called PFC, now set at about $4.50 per person for each leg of a flight. But if Democrats and a few wayward Republicans get their way, the PFC won’t be so obscure anymore. That’s because the PFC could soon be doubled and, in the process, impose an additional cost of $144 on a family of four for a connecting flight.”

    So if it doubles, it would be an additional $4.50 per pax per leg. Assuming a family of 4, it becomes $18 extra per leg (4 * 4.5). Then assume a one stop flight each way or 4 legs, you would have 4 * 18 = $72 extra. Is he counting the current $72? Who knows. But as other have pointed out, this is just a drop in the bucket if attending Disney World, staying at a hotel for a couple of nights, eating all of your meals out, buying souvenirs, etc. If someone can afford all of that, they can afford the extra $72.

    But that small amount multiplied by tens of thousands of people each year equals a bunch of money for airport improvements and operations. Where else would the money come from? Those people not flying?

    • Noel

      June 6, 2019 at 2:12 pm

      Almost verbatim what I posted a few hours before you! Ha ha

  • Alan L

    June 4, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    The comments to your well written opinion piece proves that union members read, Mr. Colon. And this bunch lives in Florida and drives. They’re more than willing to tax outsiders who visit wealthy Disney. Obviously they don’t realize Disney supports Democrat causes. But, don’t cry for Disney. They’ll simply raise prices for streaming shows and movies. And then this ilk will pay. LOL! Speaks volumes about the failures in education.

Comments are closed.


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