Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Air Duty Fiasco

What a pickle the British Government has got itself into over air passenger duty paid by travellers flying from UK airports.

HM Customs and Revenue, which administer the charges, has launched a consultation on the way they are levied.

One suggestion is that the higher level of charges should kick in when seat pitch - usually defined as the measurement between a point on one seat and the same point on the one in front – exceeds a certain distance.

Currently the lower level - £10 or £20 for short or long haul passengers respectively – applies simply to “the lowest class of travel”. Passengers in all other cabins pay double.

This has created a ludicrous anomaly: customers of business class only airlines, who have acres of space, pay the lower charge, while those flying in premium economy – often leisure travellers seeking a little extra leg room – pay the larger amount. And the higher rate even applies to package holiday customers booking premium seats on charters.

But HM Customs and Revenue notes that basing the charges on seat pitch might create difficulties where an airline offers business class quality of service in a seat whose pitch defines it in the lower class.

It is the wording of the regulation that has caused the problems. Why not re-write it, applying the higher charge to “business and first class tickets”? Premium economy passengers should pay the lower price. And in case of any disputes – or tricky ploys by airlines to evade the charges – why not back that up by relating them to the class as shown on the ticket.

That this mess should necessitate a lengthy consultation is another result of the woolly thinking on APD which has raised consumer and airline industry hackles (see my earlier blog). With a little more care and attention, present difficulties could and should have been avoided.

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