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Travelers to start paying for added airline security

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WASHINGTON — The cost of a round-trip ticket will rise as much as $10 next month as airline passengers begin paying for security improvements.

The Transportation Department said the new security fee of $2.50 per flight, or $5 for passengers who change planes, will take effect Feb. 1. That's $5 for a round-trip nonstop flight, or $10 if the passenger has to change planes each way.

The new fee is expected to raise around $900 million this year, which is to be spent on new technology, passenger screeners, law enforcement officers and other security measures. Airlines are to collect the money and give it to the new Transportation Security Administration, which will take over aviation security from the Federal Aviation Administration on Feb. 17.

The fee was included in the new airline security bill passed by Congress following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Both the administration and Congress are committed to making significant improvements in aviation security," Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said. "The funds raised will be used to help achieve this important goal."

Travelers already pay up to $18 per round trip in passenger facility charges, which are used to help pay for airport improvements.

The leader of an advocacy group representing airline passengers said they shouldn't be asked to pay extra for security.

"The argument we made to Congress was this was law enforcement activity and it ought to be part of the general treasury," said David Stempler, president of the Air Travelers Association. "You don't get charged every time you call police."

The Transportation Department is seeking public comments on the new fee through March 1, and will issue a final regulation later.