Hidden taxes and mystery elements of your next plane ticket

One of the least expensive countries to depart from is Israel.

bg airport 88 (photo credit: )
bg airport 88
(photo credit: )
Death and taxes are usually considered inevitable. Oh sure, we can choose to delay our demise by freezing ourselves like ballplayer Ted Williams or animator Walt Disney. We can create fancy tax shelters and pass the onus on to our children. But the airline industry is so much simpler. No dry ice needed, no accountants required. The industry makes taxation part of the ticket, an equal opportunity tax, designed to level the playing field and applicable to every passenger. What is surprising is the level of chicanery used to confuse passengers. Mixed in with a myriad of fuel surcharges and security fees, airline taxes are next to impossible to comprehend. Together with the wide range of taxes, which vary depending on one's route and where one is sitting on the aircraft, it takes a wise person to decipher all the "hidden" costs. Let's give credit though where credit is due. One of the least expensive countries to depart from is Israel. The modest fee required to depart from Ben-Gurion Airport - $13 per passenger, and free for infants up to age two - is a bargain compared to other countries. Moreover, in our constant effort to entice tourism to our country, there is no entry fee. That's right: It costs absolutely nothing to land at Ben-Gurion. Sure, you may encounter a dishonest taxi driver, no doubt your hotel bill will rival prices in the heart of London, but you may pass through our airport free of charge. Just to enter the United States, by contrast, one is levied a $32 fee; to exit, after loading up on goodies thanks to the woeful exchange rate, one pays an additional $15. And those are just American federal taxes. Many U.S airports have individual fees ranging up to $5 per internal flight. Taxes goes through the roof when you get to the United Kingdom. Take a simple trip to London - catch some shows, meet the new prime minister and jet off after a few days to the U.S. Your taxes for this modest adventure are $488! Yes, almost $500, above the airfare. Remember that, of that amount, only $13 goes to Ben Gurion Airport and $47 to the U.S. You should feel pride in walking through Heathrow Airport; after all, you're doing a far-from-small part in keeping it running. Still, the British are nothing if not fair-minded. No doubt many of you are muttering to yourselves that anyone who can afford theater tickets in London is probably flying in business class. The United Kingdom, in its bid to keep a two-tiered society, does indeed charge more taxes if flying in business class - an additional $80! Travel agents all over the world are required to collect these airport taxes on behalf of the airlines, which in turn pass them on to each respective airport. I have never read a single accounting report of how these sums are distributed. AIRPORT TAXES, like VAT, are a concept that I can comprehend. There is, though, the far more offensive matter of fuel surcharges and security fees that is unique to the Israeli travel market. When I purchase a liter of petrol, the price includes all taxes. When I buy a CD, the price and VAT is quoted. Why, then, are airlines that fly from Israel allowed to bypass this basic consumer principle? With every other product that sees an increase or decrease in a main component, the price simply rises. We're even told in advance that the price of gasoline is going up. Coffee crop ruined? We know that the prices will rise. In North America and in Europe, airfares are adjusted all the time without resorting to hidden taxes. In Israel, though, the airlines, led by El Al, don't raise the ticket price; instead, they raise the fuel surcharge, and leave parts of the public bewildered. This obfuscation is a basic ploy to entice customers into purchasing a product. Once they are hooked, all the "extras" are added in. But the Israeli public is pretty sophisticated and, in my experience, liable to punish the airlines that rely on this practice. Which leads us to the last piece of this convoluted puzzle - security fees. Restaurants in this country have been prosecuted for trying to add the price of a security guard to the tab. Courts have ruled that the patron must be told in advance of this fee and has the right to refuse payment. In the airline industry, security is a basic right, and its cost should be part of the ticket price. It's absurd to add a security fee as a kind of afterthought, but there it is. Next there'll be an aircraft maintenance fee, and a food tax. Airlines, by law, must register their airfares. Why can't our consumer associations and the Ministry of Trade and Industry demand that they give the real, all-included bottom-line price? Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. Next week's column will focus on what you can expect from your Travel Consultant. Send questions and comments to mark.feldman@ziontours.co.il.