How the Government Keeps Airline Taxes Hidden from Customers


Writing at The Washington Post, George Will highlights a legal challenge filed by Spirit Airlines and several other low-cost carriers against a government rule forbidding them from prominently listing the amount of federal taxes that comprise total airplane ticket costs. As Will writes:

The government retains a narrow authority to prevent deceptive advertising practices. But as the airlines argued in petitioning the Supreme Court to hear their case, the government is micromanaging their speech merely to prevent the public from understanding the government's tax burdens.

The government's total price rule forbids the airlines from calling attention to the tax component of the price of a ticket by listing the price the airline charges and then the tax component with equal prominence. The rule mandates that any listing of the tax portion of a ticket's price "not be displayed prominently and be presented in significantly smaller type than the listing of the total price." The government is trying to prevent people from clearly seeing the burdens of government.

Read the whole thing here.


NEXT: John Stossel on Living Free or Moving

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. As someone who was in business for himself, if regular people had to pay their taxes the way businesses do, we would have long-since had a tax revolt.

  2. Milton Friedman taught the government that hiding the tax burden was the secret to parasitism. For that, he should be forever reviled, because the government has learned that lesson well. Whether it is income tax withholding or stealth taxes on air travel or telecommunications or whatever, government learned it very, very well.

    1. Technically, the sales tax is the same mitigated deal. Once you get used to the outrage of the prices being x% higher than what’s on the tag, you just factor it in and go on about your business. Unless (if FL) you’re part of the blessed class (newspapers, tax services, barbers and hair-stylists are all sales tax exempt services and products).

      1. Depends where you buy the paper. I pay taxes on newspapers if I buy them in the store.

        1. Whoops. That’s a very old law that got overturned. FLSC ruled that the state could not exempt newspapers and tax magazines. I just never paid attention.

          1. Doesn’t affect your point, of course.

            Taxes are shitty, whatever they are. Frankly, I think governments should run solely on donations.

            1. Maybe some kind of endowment, where the government funds itself with the interest. The account has $1,000.

              1. Or some kind of telethon. An Americathon, if you will.

                1. Donations really aren’t any different than bond purchases.

          2. Also, if I buy a paper out of the machine, I pay less than in the store. No sales taxes on the machine-provided paper, apparently.

            1. Subsidy to low-tech robots.

              1. Yes, well, these machines involve hinges and coin slots.

            2. I think the newspaper is responsible for this. Just like you can set a “tax-included” price on the food you sell if you want to sell $2 beers, but the restaurant/bar owner is responsible for paying those taxes.

              And as several of my business owning acquaintences learned in Tallahassee, you will by God retain the right accountant or attorney, because if you try to pay the taxes yourself, the Dept of Revenue will have you arrested and charged with “theft of taxes” before sending you a bill of what they figure you owe.

      2. Without sales tax, there would be much less need for pennies when paying cash.

  3. OT: Reason, your ads are trolling me. “Do you think Congress should work 5 days per week like regular people?” AYFKM? Only if its once a year and the only 5 days they meet.

    1. I’m getting ads for mail-order Asian brides, Nine Inch Nails, and protecting the unborn. 2 for 3 ain’t bad.

      1. Firefox with Adblock Plus. Advertisement? What’s that?

        1. Work computer. My choices are have fun with them or bitch. I choose both.

          1. You don’t have a dedicated work station and admin rights? Sucks to be you.

            1. Worse. Several of the sites I have to consume for work activities require IE and javascript and I’m too goddamned lazy to run 2 different browsers.

              1. I use IE only for the application that I support. Stupid government requires that it be IE only. Whatever. I use Firefox for everything else.

              2. Javafuckingscript. That is one shitely written language.

                1. Javafuckingscript. That is one shitely written language.

                  Yep. I’m writing some right now.

                  if (confirm(“Are you sure?”) {

                  It all pays the same.

                  1. It all pays the same.

                    They are actually required to pay me 1.5x my base rate if I have to work on classic ASP. I had it written into my contract.

                  2. If you can get away with it, take the time to learn coffeescript. Writing in CS and autoconverting back to javascript will cut down significantly on the boilerplate you have to deal with with js. Its a real time saver.

                    1. Ha, only suckers have to write in scripting languages. If you’re having to write javascript, you’ve made a bad career choice.

                    2. Granted javascript is a very small part of the job, but when you maintain a web based application it’s pretty much unavoidable.

              3. my company will not allow other browsers. IE8 is a good as it gets.

          2. I only have cached images set to load, and Flash not to load automatically. I don’t get much in the way of ads.

        2. Block ads? And what, not know where to order more Asian brides? Thanks, but no thanks.

          1. How many Asian brides do you currently have?

            1. I only ever have one, but they keep breaking and need to be replaced. That’s Taiwanese manufacturing for you.

  4. I don’t see how this could possibly be upheld in a rational world.

    1. in a rational world.

      Found your problem, sir.

    2. It’s totally rational. The job of the courts is to defend legislation from the little people. Sure, they throw us a bone once in a while for appearances sake, but their core duty is to authority, not liberty.

  5. I work for a company who is one of the targets of this law, and it’s really causing customer service problems.

    A person books a trip 6 months in advance from us. Three months before departure, the govt ups the taxes. We can either run a significant number of our trips on little or no profit, or we can try to pass the cost on to our customers. Guess their reaction when we tell them that the taxes have gone up and they need to pony up another $100 – $500?

    And, I should point out that we get shit for that money; when the Egyptian revolution happened, guess how much help we got from the U.S. govt in evacuating our customers from Egypt? Nada! Our CEO personally organized the aircraft and crew that evacuated our and our competitors’ customers with no help from the U.S. govt whatsoever.

    Price we pay for civilization my ass.

    1. Wait, they charge taxes based on the day of flight not the day of purchase?

      1. What if taxes go up on fuel?

        1. Well, back in 2008 and thereabouts, Southwest had bought their fuel five years in advance, and when the “gas crisis” hit, their fuel prices were unchanged, so their flights were massively cheaper than anyone else’s. I flew on them many times that year for incredibly low fares. I guess it’s all just planning.

          1. Unpossible. Futures contracts are only used for spekalashun, never hedging, and are therefore evil. Almost as evil as you.

      2. It’s day of purchase – for us. We buy our airplane seats in blocks of 10 – 20. Our customers sign up piecemeal months in advance, and we purchase the accommodations several months in advance. We have to pay taxes when we buy those blocks. Typically our customers paid us months earlier.

        1. Would y’all do refunds if taxes went down (yeah, yeah, I know)?

          I’d be pissed if I bought a ticket and then someone came after me for more money, at least if that possibility wasn’t made quite clear at the outset.

          1. Actually, we do do refunds when that happens. And our customers are grateful, and we don’t have to face the risk of being charged with defrauding our customers should the govt ever audit us.

            And, if you read the law, it doesn’t allow us to tell our customers our non-tax price. The rationale is that that would ‘trick’ them into thinking they were paying less than they are paying.

            It’s a complete fiasco created by a bunch of ignorant yahoo’s whining the the Chuck Schumers of the world.

            1. Wait, so you can only tell customers the non-tax price, so they theoretically don’t know what amount is the taxes and are paying $X for the flight, but it’s fraud if you don’t do refunds in the case of tax decreases? That’s… whack.

              I get that, from a business perspective, it could make sense to do the refunds. I don’t get how the government’s forcing you to use a single price, with which the customer is presumably satisfied, and hiding the tax is consistent with having to separate the tax in case of a refund.

              1. We can tell them costs, but we can’t advertise the costs. And what constitutes informing an existing customer and what constitutes marketing are a grey area that we try our hardest to avoid.

                So we tell them that their price includes taxes that may change. We lay everything out to them both verbally and in writing (and the taxes are itemized in the invoice they get). But some percentage of our guests just don’t get it, and they create all kinds of headaches.

                1. free speech be damned. SCOTUS needs to weigh in.

  6. Unbelievable. Who came up with that rule? At least if you’re a tax-crazy politician, have the balls to let people know how it affects them.

  7. Is it illegal to buy billboard and TV ads showing the amounts of tax on hypothetical tickets? I’d be doing that if I were an airline.

  8. Many states have laws against electric utilities itemizing taxes on customers’ electric bills. Better to have people like Buttplug complain about evil corporate profits than to know where their money is really going.

  9. The gas stations around here started putting little stickers on the pumps saying “34.5 cents of every gallon goes to pay furl taxes.”

    1. *fuel* Obviously, I authored none of the stickers.

      1. It’s pronounced “furl” thereabouts, isn’t it?

        1. More like “Few-el.” And occasionally “Happy Sniff Go-Juice.”

          1. And it’s not ethanol. It’s bourbonol.

          2. I think I’ve heard of these guys.

    2. Fun fact: In many states, total fuel taxes are about $1/gallon. Beyond state and federal fuel (road) taxes, there’s also the federal LUST tax….which is not as cool as it first sounds.

  10. Deregulate and desubsidize the shit.

    1. SOMALIA!!!!!!11!!!one!!!eleven!!!!

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.