A Primer on US Aviation Taxes That Apply on International Flights

Government Regulation

On Tuesday, I talked about the taxes and fees that applied to domestic travel, but now I’m turning toward international travel, a more complicated beast. Let’s stick with the example I started to use on Monday during the fuel surcharge post with a roundtrip from LA to Papeete on Tahiti. This is again a Delta fare even though it’s on a flight operated by Air France. Here’s how it breaks down.

Sample International Fare Display


Base Fare
The base fare here is $957. This is a round number, unlike the domestic one from yesterday because when an airline files a base fare internationally, it’s just that and doesn’t include any tax. That’s also because there is no percentage tax internationally.

Airline Surcharge (YQ)
Yesterday, we talked about airline surcharges and those are often filed like a tax under the code YQ. In this case, Delta has filed a $360.40 YQ charge that it is calling an “International Surcharge” on its website. Sometimes it will be called a fuel surcharge, but the name can vary. This is money kept by the airline. It wouldn’t be taxable if there were a percentage tax, but since there isn’t one internationally, that’s not relevant.

US International Transportation Tax (US)
As in the domestic example, there is a federal US tax but it’s not a percentage. It’s currently $16.70 each way, so you can see here that the total US is $33.40.

US Customs User Fee (YC)
This charge is collected by the government to support customs inspection functions at $5.50 per entry into the US.

US Federal Inspection Fee (XY)
This charge is collected by the government to support immigration inspection functions at $7.00 per entry into the US.

US APHIS User Fee (XA)
This charge is collected by the government to support plant and animal inspections at $5.00 per entry into the US.

US September 11th Security Fee (AY)
This charge might look familiar because it’s charged on domestic flights as well, but there is a trick. This only applies to flights departing from the US so on this one, it only gets charged once at $2.50 since the return leaves from Tahiti.

Passenger Facility Charge (XF)
This one is the same as it is domestically. Departures from US airports with the fee in place are charged up to $4.50 per departure. In this case, LAX charges $4.50.

And those are all the US taxes and fees. What else is in here? You’ll see a PF charge of $15.60 and an FR charge of $17.60. Since this flight is international, the US isn’t the only one charging fees and taxes here. The PF charge is a local departure tax for French Polynesia while the FR tax is a French tax since French Polynesia is still part of France.

I picked this example because it’s quite simple with very few taxes. It’s not uncommon to see far more than this. It gets so complex, we’ve even had a few tickets we’ve issued that have had so many taxes that Delta’s system couldn’t handle the length of the fare calculation. Crazy stuff. How about this one with United and Lufthansa, for example?

Complex International Taxes

This trip is from Cairo to Frankfurt, then on to London, over to LA, and then back to Cairo. The alphabet soup of taxes is incredible. There’s also added complication here because since it starts in Cairo, the fare is in Egyptian currency. But since we’re in the US, the system converts it to US Dollars. I won’t go through each tax here because we’ll be here all day, but I think you get the point.

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14 comments on “A Primer on US Aviation Taxes That Apply on International Flights

  1. This will help people understand how a tiny USD9.00/EUR9.00/GBP9.00 fare can be hundres of dollars/euros/pounds more after taxes. Very few international taxes are a percentage tax, but a flat rate tax which can be high. Just look at your last example, that London stop added USD155.60 to the fare just in UK taxes (GB/UB) and about the same for German taxes.

  2. Cranky, a job well done!

    Googling, as we are wont to do, I noticed an April 2005 George Mason Univ. study, “The Taxation of Air Transportation,” authored by a Kenneth J. Button.

    I can’t say whether this report is the best on the subject, but it took them a while to say much of what you have said in your blog in a few short, well written paragraphs.

    A couple of quotes from that that report: “Taxes serve a purpose.” And: Airlines should pay the economic costs of resources that they consume and from which they directly benefit.”

    Could we really disagree with that? Yet, we could all argue forever about the fairness of taxes, fees, and charges, and whether the airlines or anyone else is actually benefitting. Of course, I have question about everything else airlines charge me for, and whether I should be paying a lot of things airlines include in a fare.

    Regarding the taxes, fees, and charges airlines collect, don’t you wonder whether they actually turn over the money to the jurisdictions requiring the collections. I’m sure there are reports and reports, but I hope someone is audinting, at least to prove they’re not using the money to buy lottery tickets.

    1. Jay, Part of the argument is the government is forcing these to be attached to the tickets, but they have to be rolled up and published as one. Since most of these are fees for the passenger services (e.g. They aren’t charged on cargo flights on the same sectors.) they should be broken out as government fees/taxes.

  3. Actually the nightmares come from Round The World or RTW fares. It’s been several years since I used one, but by the middle of the last decade there were so many charges and surcharges that there was no way to fit all of them on the ticket. I actually got a seperate piece of paper that had the tax/fee calculations on it. I think there were 31 different taxes, fees and surcharges! The itinerary involved 19 sectors,

  4. What happens at transit points: all flights from Australia to Europe involve either or both a stop or a change of flight at some point. As London is so expensive to fly to or from in any class other than economy, I’m thinking of getting a ticket to some nearby point like Dublin or Paris in business and a separate short hop (or tunnel!).

    1. It all depends upon how long you layover in LA, how you bought your tickets, etc. But it would probably be about $25 one way if you just stopped in LA on a single ticket and nowhere else in the US.

  5. Can you kindly explain the “International Surcharge” ($239 per ticket) re our flight to Scotland on United. Interestingly,no one at United could explain this and their “Ask Alex” feature was totally useless here. Thanks

    1. Winedoc – I don’t know the exact specifics of your fare, but usually the international surcharge is an airline-added fee that is included in the displayed fare. It’s similar to a fuel surcharge in that way.

  6. I’m looking over the receipt for my upcoming trip on UA EWR-MUC-DUS and returning DUS-LHR-EWR. The UA airfare is 241USD and the “International Surcharge” is almost twice that: 516 USD. This does not include German and Great Britain taxes. How can a surcharge be almost double the actual airfare? UA owes us an explanation at the very least!

  7. That’s the fuel surcharge that goes to the airlines, but it’s coded as a tax on your ticket by many airlines so people think it goes to some government. But it all goes to the airlines and can be very high.

  8. Here’a flight from EWR to DEL (india) I take several times a year. A breakdown of the cost shows these two specific items, Eleven other items not noted below are on the breakdown.

    “The airfare you paid on this itinerary totals: 740.00 USD and International Surcharge: 556.00 USD” If that is as suggested here a Fuel Surcharge, why is it shown as an international surcharge. Surely whether the Aircraft flies for 14 minutes or 14 hours it will use fuel. This is as if it were included to suggest that the Airline HAS to charge this as it is an additional charge passed on to them as a result of some International Tax. When and how did this specific surcharge being? I just don’t get it! What’s next a “Pilot and Copilot Surcharge” followed next by a “Baggage Handler” Surcharge, ad infinitum.

    1. namaste – It’s really just a generic name for an airline-imposed surcharge. This is only broken out if someone is seeking the fare breakdown, but the airlines aren’t trying to deceive. It’s just an easier method for changing fares.

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