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Why Queue?

Air Travel and Tax

An email today came from the Air Travel Guide, detailing some net fares which are due to expire today. For information, "Net" fares are fares the likes of which you see on some of the big online agents, helpfully described as a "hacker" fare or with some other totally meaningless epithet. In fact, they are simply a sort of airline version of the "designer outlet" to shift slow moving stock - a bit like going to a discount mall and buying last seasons outfits at a knock down price.

Most, if not all, agents of all shapes and sizes have access to these fares, one way or the other... including, I may add, me.

But I digress.

One of the fares expiring, showed a QANTAS fare to Australia, Perth to be exact, for a knock down price of, sorry, "from" £87 (plus taxes.) Could I see anything close? I can get London to Perth, out on the 10th April 2018, returning on the 21st April, travelling via Dubai for £102.00 - near enough to the offer price (from a travel agent's perspective, anyway). Of course, we then have to pay the "tax and charges" - these come to, erm... £563.77, making a total cost of £665.77. £665.77 is not quite £102. (I would add that QANTAS are a well-respected (and really rather jolly) international airline, it just happens that this particular offer is from them)

Fare to Perth

Of the £563.77, £364 is made up of YQ tax - so what is that for?

If you read the IATA list of tax codes, nearly all two letter codes are specifically designated, from TD (Embarkation tax for Chad) to NB (Solidarity Tax for Mali) (Nope, sorry, no idea). Some taxes are pretty clear; GB for example, is the UK Passenger Charge and many other two letter country taxes are those imposed by duly elected Governments and have every right to be there.

Then we come to a few odd letters. YQ and YR are marked by IATA as "Airline own use only" - we have a few airline taxes like OB which are used by airlines and agents to collect change fees, but YQ and YR have no real explanation and being so high, deserve an explanation. Especially as, if you cancel, although "taxes and charges" are traditionally refundable, YQ and YR surcharges are not.

Delta helpfully give one: YQ/ YR are "Carrier-imposed surcharges stated separately from the base fare on some international itineraries" (some?) So, there you are then. Now, sit down and eat your nuts. Nothing to see, here.

ATPCO (a sort of airfare consolidation and clearing house) define YQ further: "Carrier-Imposed Fees records provide a standardized automated collection, distribution, and pricing method for fuel and carrier-imposed fees" and then comes: ".... thereby allowing new fees to be applied in the marketplace in the shortest possible time".

The UK MP Michael Fabricant raised awareness of the lack of fall in the "fuel surcharge", despite oil coming down from $140 a barrel to around $50. The response by airlines some time ago, however, in a way that could easily form the basis of a sketch for Monty Python, was simply to re-brand "fuel surcharges" as "carrier imposed charges".

If you ask any airline to define this further, they will more or likely simply say "Well.... they are surcharges imposed by the carrier" again, like something out of a Douglas Adams book: .... the answer is 42 ... but what is the question... ?

It is not too hard to work out what is going on, here. (Legacy) airlines need to show a low price, but they also need to show some sort of profit. You cannot run an A380 from London to Perth without incurring some costs and you still need some sort of half-decent revenue from all those people sitting down the back. Fair enough.

That said, the tax and charges boxes were never designed to act as an instantly-variable fare amendment system. They were designed to break out those charges which were imposed by foreign and domestic Governments which charges, being variable according to the exchange rates, one could reasonably expect to see shown as separate and further, reasonably expect them to be added on as an extra, given the unpredictable variances of the charges.

Passengers of any airline are entitled to transparency in seeing what they have paid for and why. YQ/ YR charges are an anathema and must be removed and where appropriate, included in the quoted base fare; "tax and charge" boxes should return to being that what they were designed to be ... and refundable.

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