"We didn't spend a lot of time thinking about this one," said Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan. "We were pretty surprised to learn on Monday that the majority of our competitors chose to pocket the money. Our logic was these were taxes and fees we were already turning over to government and therefore we didn't feel it was the right thing to do to keep the money."
Since the FAA shutdown began almost two weeks ago, Alaska Airlines has seen a 26 percent increase in ticket bookings. Passengers are saving, for example about $40 on a $300 round trip ticket with one layover each way. The Treasury Department is looking into whether the federal government can collect the would-be tax revenue from airlines that have increased their fares once the FAA is reauthorized.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has said repeatedly that air travel safety will not be affected by the shutdown because air traffic controllers and safety inspection personnel are continuing to work. The safety inspectors, though, are currently working for free and paying their own travel expenses because the FAA cannot access the funds to pay them without Congressional approval.
"We are depending and living on their professionalism at this point," FAA Administrator Randy Babbit said last week of the unpaid safety inspectors.
Despite LaHood's multiple claims that safety is not affected, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association warned today that communication between air traffic controllers and pilots could be compromised in Chicago because of an unfinished construction project.
Technicians at the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center were replacing one of the air conditioning handlers at the center when the FAA funding expired, forcing them to stop working.
If the other air conditioning unit and the back-up unit fail, "the entire Chicago airspace could be without communications," said Luke Drake, the regional vice president for Professional Aviation Safety Specialists.
"This situation diminishes the margin of safety for critical air traffic control systems by leaving important components offline," Drake said. "This is another example of why Congress needs to return to D.C. and pass an FAA extension immediately in order to get the furloughed employees back to work who ensure the safe and efficient operation of the aviation system."