Airlines Can't Convince Court They Are Being Overcharged For TSA Screening

Even though the screeners at airport security checkpoints in the U.S. are employees of the Transportation Security Administration and those fancy new see-through-your-clothes machines are technically paid for by the feds, the airlines still have to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars per year for security theater. Several of them claim the TSA is overcharging to the tune of $115 million. An appeals court disagrees.

See, the airlines used to be the ones that would foot the bill for airport security. After the TSA took over in 2001, it was determined that the airlines would continue to pay, but their share was capped at what the airlines spent during the 2000 calendar year.

Problem is, the airlines and the TSA don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on where that cap should be. Southwest Airlines and 19 other carriers have been fighting the feds in court over the $420 million annual bill, saying they only spent around $305 million in 2000.

But in a 2-1 decision last week, a U.S. Appeals Court ruled against the airlines, saying that since there “was no authoritative source for the number of airport screenings during the year 2000 — no government audit of all U.S. airports, no contemporaneous and independently verified calculation,” the fees will stand as they are.

The panel had previously sent the case back to a lower court for further investigation but were satisfied that all due diligence had been done this time around. “Determining the figure in response to this court’s remand thus involved a good deal of inquiry and ultimately required a dash of art as well as science,” the majority judges wrote in their ruling.

The dissenting judge on the panel stated that she believed the TSA had wrongly ignored contradictory evidence when determining its fees.

Back in 2007, the TSA said several airlines owed more than $219 million in unpaid fees because those carriers were refusing to pay the full amount estimated by the government.

Of course, if the airlines are compelled to continue paying the higher annual fee, it will just end up coming out of your pocket.

Southwest, 19 Other Airlines Lose Bid to Lower Fees for Security Screening [Bloomberg]