What the FAA Shutdown Means for Flyers

by  Molly Fergus | Jul 25, 2011
Plane in the sky
Plane in the sky / undefinedundefined/iStock

The Federal Aviation Administration went into a partial shutdown at midnight Saturday after congress failed to resolve a dispute over a $16.5 million cut in subsidies. Although this has brought about some good news for flyers – namely, that the government won’t levy certain airline taxes during the shutdown – it has also put nearly 4,000 FAA employees on furlough and halted a number of construction projects at airports across the country. It’s unclear how long the shutdown will last, so here’s what you need to know if you’re flying or planning to book air travel in the near future.

Safety Operations: This is a partial shutdown, so know that airports are still open, flights will still take off, and essential safety roles, such as air traffic control posts, will remain staffed.

Ticket Prices: The biggest consumer news to come out of the shutdown is the sneaky way that airlines are boosting their own profits. The shutdown eliminated the taxes and fees that would normally fund the agency, but instead of passing that savings on to flyers, American, United, Continental, Delta, US Airways, Southwest, AirTran, and JetBlue simply raised fares to what they would have cost if the administration were still fully operational. Flyers aren’t paying more for tickets, but those airlines are raking in easy extra cash – about $25 on a $300 ticket, totaling up to $25 million a day, according to the Associated Press.

Spirit Airlines and Virgin America, comparatively, each saw the chance to make the competition look greedy and have publicly announced that they will not increase fares during the shutdown – amounting to an indefinite sale on domestic flights.

Tax Refunds: If you bought a ticket for travel during the FAA shutdown and paid taxes on that flight, you might receive a refund. The IRS is expected to determine how and if it will return that cash, though JetBlue already has a system in place to deal with refund requests. If your flight takes off within the next week, email the airline at dearjetblue@jetblue.com with your confirmation and the subject line “Expired Tax Refund Request.” It will administer the savings based on the government’s guidelines.

If refunds are issued, there's also a chance that flyers who buy during the tax holiday will owe the IRS if their flight takes off after the shutdown has passed. That means if you buy from one of the airlines that have raised fares to offset the taxes, you'll wind up with an even pricier ticket.

Airport Renovations: Construction crews at airports nationwide have been given stop work orders on more than 60 modernization projects currently underway or scheduled to begin soon. Those projects include a $43 million contract to construct a new air traffic control tower at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport and a $6 million contract to demolish an old tower at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport.

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