Advanced Search



November 23, 2004

Washington Supreme Court Upholds Airport Concession Fees

November 23, 2004

By Dennis A. Ostgard



By Dennis A. Ostgard

Douglas Branson sued the Port of Seattle, claiming that airport concession fees charged to rental car companies conducting business at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport violate state law. The fees, which are fairly standard at airports nationwide, are 10 percent of the total rental charges. For example, if a traveler rents a car for one week at a rate of $100, the fee is $10. Rental car companies pass through that charge to the traveler’s bill.

State law gives airports the right to set the fees for rental and use of property, provided that “in all cases, the public is not deprived of its rightful, equal and uniform use of the property.” Other states, including Oregon, have adopted similar legislation.

Branson argued that the fees were not equal and uniform. Because the fee is a percentage of the total bill, travelers pay vastly different amounts depending on the length of their stay. Branson cited an example of one traveler who paid a $2 fee while another paid $176. Moreover, a traveler cannot avoid or reduce this charge by taking a shuttle ride from the airport and renting a car from an off-site rental company. The 10-percent concession fee is charged to such a traveler, even though he or she arguably burdens the airport less than those renting on-site.

Branson argued that airports should implement a flat fee for all travelers who rent cars. He also sought a refund of fees to all those who used off-site rental companies since 1998, when the companies began passing the concession costs to travelers. If granted, the total refund would have been sizeable, as the Port of Seattle has made millions of dollars each year from the fee.

The Washington Supreme Court rejected Branson’s argument, distinguishing between fees charged to service providers such as rental car companies and fees charged to members of the public for the use of airport property. The court reasoned that rental cars are not airport property, and the concession fees are not charged to members of the public. Even though rental car companies have chosen to pass these fees through to customers, the port did not mandate or control this practice. Therefore, the fees do not deny the public the equal and uniform use of airport property.

Branson also argued that the fees were not established with due regard to the property used and the expense of operation. The court refused to consider this argument. Since the fees were charged to rental car companies, and not to Branson, he lacked standing to assert this claim.

Copyright 2014 | Site Map | Diversity Statement
Sign Up for Legal Updates | SchwabeBlog | | |