News

Durham introduces "Passenger Facility Fee"

17 Nov 2010 by BusinessTraveller

Durham Tees Valley Airport has started charging passengers to use its terminal. From last Monday, each adult passenger departing Durham has had to pay a Passenger Facility Fee (PFF) of £6 (£2 for children aged three to 15 years).  

What most passengers probably do not realise is that this new PPF charge is in addition to the so-called “airport service fee” which they have already paid for in the cost of their ticket.

Book a flight from Durham to Amsterdam, for example, and the booking page of klm.com displays the fact that you are being charged £13.70 as an airport service fee. But this fee you are paying KLM is nothing to do with Durham’s new PFF.  

So in other words, passengers are being charged twice over (ie £13.70 to KLM and £6 to Durham) for the privilege of using Durham airport when flying to Amsterdam.

Passengers buy their PFF tickets from machines in the terminal. The tickets need to be shown before passengers are allowed through security and into the departure area.

Other regional airports with PFFs are Blackpool, Newquay and Norwich. All say they are struggling in these difficult economic times and need the PFF is order to stay in business. 

According to Tim Jeans, managing director of Monarch Airlines, a major user of regional airports, “the problem [with these extra fees] is that a number of these airports are seeing double-digit declines in traffic, yet their budgets are based on passenger growth.”

Operator Peel Airports, says in a statement that it does not want to charge passengers who use Durham but it was the only way to safeguard its future. Chief executive, Craig Richmond said that the airport was operating at a loss, “It’s a tough time when you see your passengers drop off between 30 and 40 per cent. I hope our customers will recognise that it is something we have to do.”

Durham has suffered ever since Bmi withdrew its four times a day link to London Heathrow at the end of March 2009. Bmi used to operate the route with 150-seater Airbuses. It meant that on an average day hundreds of Bmi passengers would have passed through Durham providing it not just with handling fees but also with the revenue spent in the airport’s various retail and car rental outlets.

But why cannot these airports recoup their losses by raising their airline handling fees rather than charging the passenger?

The answer isn’t that simple as it’s all to do with the business model of regional airports and the carriers that use them. The marketplace is so competitive today that if an airport wants to raise prices to recoup lost revenue then that airline will say ‘forget it.’  It will refuse to pay more in the current climate and will threaten to withdraw its flights.

Durham is especially vulnerable. Besides a number of holiday charter flights it handles only two scheduled carriers: KLM and Eastern Airways. It has scheduled services to only three cities:  Aberdeen, Amsterdam and Southampton.

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has a remit to protect the interests of the travelling public. So what does it have to say?

“It’s an issue we are keeping an eye on,” says a spokesperson, “we don’t like it [the PFF] but we can see the rationale from a practical point of view. When an airport does introduce a PFF we do require transparency so that passengers are informed in advance.”

It is true that details of the PFF are clearly posted on Durham airport’s website. Details also appear on Eastern Airways’ booking page when taking a flight out of Durham. But, up until now, there is no mention on the booking page of klm.com when passengers book a flight between Durham and Amsterdam.

In an emailed statement, Durham airport says, “We are aware that KLM’s website doesn’t currently inform passengers of our PFF and we are discussing this with the airline. However, in the interim, any KLM passenger travelling from Durham with KLM, who is unaware of this charge [ie the PFF] and who has booked via klm.com can access the Departure Lounge without paying the fee.”

The long-term worry for Durham is that not all passengers may wish to pay the PFF. Instead they may defect to the likes of Newcastle, Leeds or Manchester where there is a greater range of airlines and destinations.

For more information visit durhamteesvalleyairport.com.

Report by Alex McWhirter

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