How Passengers Refused to Pay Air Travel Taxes

You can write to your long distance provider (or you could, back when people typically had long distance providers instead of general-purpose cell or internet telephony) and say “I’m not paying my federal long distance telephone service excise tax any longer. Please remove it from my bill and inform the federal government of my intransigence.” If you do so, the company is supposed to stop charging you and the government is supposed to start persecuting you.

During the Vietnam War, when such excise tax refusal became a popular form of protest, such persecution was practiced, and the government went to great trouble to seize cars and things in order to assert its right to paltry amounts of excise tax. Since then, they’ve mostly ignored the eccentric tax resisters.

There is a similar excise tax (several overlapping ones, actually) on air travel, and the official rule is the same — if the passenger says he or she is not paying, the ticketing agency is supposed to notify the government of their refusal. In practice, though, most people buy their airline tickets through web sites, and there is no point in the process at which they can say “no” to such excise taxes.

This was not always the case, as this Associated Press dispatch from concerning a Philadelphia-specific air travel excise tax shows:

Passengers Refusing To Pay New Air Tax; Airports Note Delays

by Vern Haughland
AP Aviation Writer

Newly devised taxes on air passengers went into effect over the weekend at five airports, but thousands of travelers refused to pay the new fees.

The collection of the new municipal head taxes, and the requirement that holdout passengers fill out refusal forms, resulted in massive delays at the major airport involved, Philadelphia.

The City of Brotherly Love has imposed the stiffest charge of any yet levied or proposed — $2 per person for all air travelers arriving at the airport as well as for all of those departing.

There was less difficulty initially at the other airports with lighter traffic and with a more modest $1 fee for departing passengers only: Richmond, Va.; Sarasota-Brandenton, Fla.; Huntsville, Ala.; and Tri-City Airport at Saginaw, Mich.

A spokesman for the Air Transport Association said since the head taxes at the airports went into effect , a Saturday, they have not yet been fully tested.

“The big crunch comes tomorrow,” he said.

Many other cities are eyeing their airports as potential new sources of revenue in the light of a Supreme Court decision upholding the use and service charges in New Hampshire and Evansville, Ind.

As for the situation at Philadelphia, the ATA vice president for public affairs, Warren N. Martin described it as “an ungodly mess.”

“The head-tax collection problems, combined with the heavy holiday traffic jammed the terminal area with long, long lines of passengers in front of all ticket counters,” Martin said.

“Thousands of people refused to pay the tax, upon which refusal most carriers asked the passenger to fill out and sign a special form.

“When one person in the line started to fill out a form, the domino theory took effect and the rest of the line refused and went through the time-consuming procedure of completing the form.”

Airline representatives said they are prohibited by law from refusing tickets to persons who paid the published fare, regardless of payment of the $2 tax.

Philadelphia city officials said steps would be taken to collect the delinquent taxes. But airline representatives said some passengers even refused to give their names on the tax-denial forms and thus could not be traced.

The city has proposed also to fine the airlines $100 to $300 for failure to collect the tax.

An astute reader reminded me that the federal excise tax on long-distance service has been dropped, and that tax now only applies to your local land-line if you’ve got one. For more information on resisting this federal excise tax, see the newly-revamped Hang Up On War! website.


Nick Szabo at Unenumerated has this good piece of advice that I thought was worth sharing. He says you should take care to disagree with yourself — that is, to not only entertain but to vigorously defend contradictory hypotheses.

Totalitarian thought asks us to consider, much less accept, only one hypothesis at a time. By contrast quantum thought, as I call it — although it already has a traditional name less recognizable to the modern ear, scholastic thought — demands that we simultaneoulsy consider often mutually contradictory possibilities. Thinking about and presenting only one side’s arguments gives one’s thought and prose a false patina of consistency: a fallacy of thought and communications similar to false precision, but much more common and important. Like false precision, it can be a mental mistake or a misleading rhetorical habit. In quantum reality, by contrast, I can be both for and against a proposition because I am entertaining at least two significantly possible but inconsistent hypotheses, or because I favor some parts of a set of ideas and not others. If you are unable or unwilling to think in such a quantum or scholastic manner, it is much less likely that your thoughts are worthy of others’ consideration.

Of course, you still need some heuristics for collapsing your quantum superposition of conflicting hypotheses into something that allows you to take action when the time comes. But I think this is very good advice. In some, perhaps many things, I am just plain wrong in my assumptions or in my reasoning. If I habitually explore alternate explanations for things I encounter, rather than trying for the sake of consistency to fit them into the mold of my previous behavior and understanding, I’ll be more likely to see where I am mistaken and to adjust accordingly.

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