Until now UK airport passengers meekly accepted the imposition of fees for facilities which, once upon a time, would have cost nothing. We may have grumbled but we paid up because there was no alternative.
But a turning point seems to have been reached in Scotland where the thrifty citizens of Edinburgh are up in arms about their airport’s plan, from October, to charge a £1 fee when motorists drop off passengers in front of the terminal.
Lothians Conservative MSP Gavin Brown (gavinbrown.org) has lodged a motion at Holyrood (home of the Scottish Parliament) protesting at what he sees as a “tax” which could see BAA (operator of Edinburgh airport) earning £1 million a year from motorists.
The motion has attracted cross-party support and calls on BAA to reverse its decision. Users of Edinburgh airport are being urged voice their opposition to the proposed charge by signing the petition.
Edinburgh airport handles a not inconsiderable nine million passengers annually. It is one of a growing number of mainly UK regional airports which have copied the budget airlines by using ancillary charges as a way of boosting their income.
Gordon Dewar, Edinburgh airport’s MD denies that the move is “profiteering.” Writing in The Scotsman, he says, “It is a modest charge that will allow us to continue to invest in our airport and deliver all of the things that our stakeholders, including politicians would like to see. The alternative is less investment or a higher cost to airlines.”
Edinburgh says it will retain a free drop-off zone at the long-stay car park from where passengers will be able to catch a bus to the terminal. A new drop-off zone will be created on the ground floor of the multi-story car park. A number plate recognition device will charge drivers as they leave the area with initial fees set at £1 for 10 mins.
Ancillary fees are appearing at a growing number of UK airports including London Luton, Belfast International, Birmingham, Cardiff, Newcastle, Newquay and Norwich.
The charges in question range between £1 and £10 and cover a variety of things including passenger drop-off, baggage trolley use and airport development.
Although £1 may seem a trifling sum one must note that, once imposed, a fee can be increased. Look at Luton airport which has just hiked its non-refundable baggage trolley charge from £1 to £2. Or look at what has happened with the London Congestion Charge.
Why are these airports doing it? According to Tim Jeans, MD of Monarch Airlines, a major user of regional airports, “The problem is that a number of these airports are seeing double-digit declines in traffic, yet their budgets are based on passenger growth.”
But if these airports are suffering from a cash shortfall, why can’t they recoup their losses by charging the airlines more in landing fees ?
That would have been the case in decades gone by with the airlines passing on the increase to their passengers. But today’s regional market, dominated as it is by hard-nosed budget carriers, is very different.
Robert Siddall, chief executive of AOA (Airport Operators Association) says, “The budget airline model means keeping a lid on prices. Some airports have contracts with airlines where they have a fixed-price deal [on landing charges] so they can’t raise rates. Where there is no such contract, an airline may have secured a low-price deal. But when the airport wants to raise prices [to recoup lost revenue from lower passenger numbers] the airline will say, ‘forget it’. It will refuse to pay more in the current climate and will threaten to withdraw its flights.”
Readers wishing to sign the petition can visit gopetition.co.uk/online/37552.html, and to read Alex's piece on soaring fees at regional airports in the June 2009 edition of Business Traveller, click here.
Report by Alex McWhirter