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And Another Little Thing...


People may be starting to wake up to the magical transformation of YQ "fuel surcharge" into "carrier imposed surcharges" but are we all aware of the UB charge which also finds its way onto our tickets?

UB is the charge you pay for the privilege of being able to actually use the airport. Why this has to be shown as a separate charge, given that it is usually calculated annually, I know not. Further, the charge should be in the fare - an aircraft cannot arrive or depart without the use of a long strip of tarmac and unless passengers just sort of mill about in a muddy field until departure time, you will need some sort of a terminal. Airports make money from selling so-called "duty free" and from what I hear, rents for a unit in the departure lounge are a long way from half-a-crown a week.

Charges vary. Around London, you pay £24.70 for Heathrow, £13.00 for Gatwick and £14.56 for Luton. Oh! And if you travel from Luton, somehow, it costs an extra £6.30 in A1 Jetfuel than it does for Gatwick or Heathrow. (Based on a comparison of London to Amsterdam, out 15, back 25 September) If you happen to be able to fly from Manchester, then you pay £17.69.

Now, Here's the good bit.

The airport charge is nicely arranged, in the UK, by the UK CAA who, basically, tell airports what they have to do and what standards they have to meet. If they meet them, there is a rebate, if not then they have to pay back some money. Errrr.... pay back some money to the airlines that use the facilities, that is, not the passengers who have to put up with airport idiosyncrasies.

The reporting is fiendishly difficult to understand. Reports go on for ages and include all sorts of metrics which take time to fathom let alone, understand. The long and short of it is though, you, the passenger, have invariably been able to pick your bags up on time, never wait more than 10 minutes (and usually, never wait more than 5 minutes) to get through security, can always find somewhere to sit and have great air conditioning in all airports and their terminals. Yeah. Right.

So no rebate to the airlines, then.... in fact, Heathrow managed to earn a bonus in June 2017 (if I have read the reports correctly). What happens, is that this bonus gets added up over the year and then added on to next years' charge. Yes! It's trebles all round!!!

If you like, the scheme almost makes it worth the airlines while for airports not to perform. If airports don't, then the airlines - not the humble passenger - get a load of money back. In 2011, for example, according to Airport World, Heathrow had to give back to the airlines 495,909 Euros in rebates for not having enough seating in Terminal 3 and for not having enough pier availability at Terminal 5 (piers are where aircraft get parked up). Apparently now, customer (that's passenger, not airline) satisfaction levels hit an all time high in the last quarter of 2016 (again, according to Airport World) at Heathrow. One presumes that security queues, tech failures and strikes don't affect passenger satisfaction. As long as the new personal shopping lounge in terminal 5 works, everything is fine. That hiccup over the May Bank Holiday? Fake news?

For information, the world's best airport list includes Seoul ICN, Singapore (big) through to Jaipur (small), best airport for the Europe region include Moscow SVO, St. Petersburg, with Heathrow tied in 3rd place with, inter alia, Copenhagen, Porto and Keflavik. But we need to get Heathrow as first for something.... so let's introduce a new category ... "Best Airport by Size AND Region" ... Great! Now we can have Heathrow as first! (Oh! In the "over 40 million passengers per year" category). After all, we have to get Heathrow over Moscow and Dublin somehow.

Information about airport standards has been difficult to find and unless you are well into this sort of thing, the information is very hard for any layman (even a travel agent!) to get to grips with.

Yet is all this in any way relevant? Not really. Air travel consists of an experience that starts when you book a flight and ends when you collapse, exhausted, onto your bed when you arrive home. No matter who is responsible for which part of the experience, it is the "whole" that matters. That someone may rate an airline and not an airport or the taxi firm and not the booking website, does not give us a true picture. All elements need to understand that the experience must be considered in a holistic end-to-end sense; all the elements make the whole. It is not one element being good and one being hopeless; any one element can fail and in so doing, lets down the whole experience.

Above all, though, by charging for the use of the airport, where the airline benefits if the airport does badly and the passengers do not benefit if the airport does well, is ridiculous.

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© 2018 Murray Harrold

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