Winners & Losers: Air Travel Edition

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The big winners in air travel in the past few weeks? No question: the airlines. They pocketed hundreds of millions of dollars that could have gone into passenger pockets by raising base airfares during the congressional impasse-induced tax holiday -- a tax holiday you and I didn't get to enjoy.

Now that the taxes have returned after a 16-day hiatus, the airlines are rolling back their increases. After all, we're heading into the "soft" fall travel season, and if they didn't lower their prices, people might not fly. For the airlines, a win-win.

They weren't alone in being air travel winners. In fact, I'd like to award Britain's Prince Harry, plus Will and Kate, a special Throne of Frugality for their recent flights on low cost airlines. And yes, they stood in line for security screening just like the rest of us peasants.

OK, time for my official "winners and losers in the air travel industry" list, mid-year edition:

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Round 1: The Airline Ticket "Tax Holiday"

Winners: As previously noted, most of the airlines. When congressional inaction stalled re-authorization of the FAA, allowing many airline ticket taxes to expire, the carriers didn't pass the savings on to you; instead they raised their prices and made some loot. Since then, the airlines have rolled back prices, but of course, the taxes have returned.

Losers: Passengers, of course, and those 4,000 FAA employees who were thrown out of work during the impasse (ditto for some 70,000 construction workers).

Special Mention: Alaska Airlines did not follow the herd to cash-in on the tax grab, but came out a winner anyway. Its principled stance (or was it PR savvy?) won new customers. According to Alaska's Bobbie Egan, "In the first seven days after the taxes expired, new bookings increased 26 percent". Well played, Alaska.

Round 2: Ticket Tax Refunds

Winners: None. The IRS originally indicated there would be refunds for travelers who bought tickets before July 23 (when taxes were still in effect) for flights during the "tax holiday" period, but at the last minute, they said no.

Losers: Who else? The passengers.

Special Mention: One bit of good news is that even though the resumption of these airline ticket taxes has been declared retroactive, you won't owe anything if you flew -- and didn't pay taxes -- during the tax holiday. Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, I guess.

Round 3: Airport Security

Winners: Anyone who's sick of the so-called "naked pictures" from TSA body scan machines. The good news is, starting this fall, new software will show your body as a cookie-shaped outline without even a suggestion of an unmentionable.

Losers: It won't replace the "enhanced pat-down" if the machine picks up on anything, so 95-year-old ladies in adult diapers could still be in for a memorable experience at the airport. Memorable as in monstrous, of course.

Special Mention: The new TSA initiative now underway at Boston's Logan International Airport, which uses "behavior detection" screening. Many note that this is modeled on Israeli security practices. According to the TSA's website, passengers will "experience a 'casual greeting' conversation, which will enable officers to better verify or dispel suspicious behavior and anomalies." Works for me.

Round 4: Shiny New Airplanes

Winners: Airline passengers, especially fans of American Airlines. The venerable carrier recently went on a big time spending spree, inking agreements to buy more than 400 spanking new airplanes. Also winning: Airbus and Boeing, the manufacturers of those planes.

Losers: Airline passengers who fly coach. Sure, the new planes will have bigger bin space, but the really cool stuff like the lie-flat seats are reserved for first and business class only.

Special Mention: Apparently first class is becoming increasingly passe for those who can afford it. According to recent news reports, fractional jet ownership is on the upswing despite the fact that it can cost you ten times as much as first class on a commercial bird.

One final note: At the start of this column, I congratulated British royalty for eschewing private jets and first class cabins. What I forgot to mention was I must also include them on the "loser" list because, even these heirs to the throne had to pay the dreaded bag fees.

The airlines win again.

This work is the opinion of the columnist and does not reflect the opinion of ABC News.

Rick Seaney is one of the country's leading experts on airfare, giving interviews and analysis to news organizations that include ABC News, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg. His website,, offers consumers free, new-generation software, combined with expert insider tips to find the best airline ticket deals.