BA pushes up air fares 15 per cent

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TWO OF Britain's leading airlines are raising fares by up to 15 per cent and claiming the increase is a form of tax. British Airways and KLM uk are taking advantage of a seemingly innocuous change in procedure. Yet the Government's aviation watchdog appears unaware of the increases.

At present passenger service charges (PSCs) imposed by airports are absorbed into airline costs and included in the ticket price. From April, the fees will be shown in the "tax" column on tickets. The airlines are taking advantage of the change to raise fares across the board.

The biggest impact will be on domestic flights, especially affecting business travellers. Passengers on BA's shuttle route from Heathrow to Belfast will pay an extra pounds 13.10 on the pounds 147 fare. From Manchester to Belfast, the rise is 15 per cent, from pounds 108 to pounds 124.30.

A spokeswoman for BA said "fares are moving all the time", therefore no price rises could be ascribed to the procedural change. But callers to BA's reservations line are being warned about fare increases. "At the moment the tax is pounds 10, but it's going up to pounds 17," one agent said in an anonymous check call by The Independent. In fact, Air Passenger Duty remains unchanged at pounds 10.

KLM uk says it will raise its fares by the amount of the PSC. A ticket from its base at Stansted to Guernsey is expected to rise by pounds 7.40, an increase of 7 per cent. At Virgin Atlantic, fare increases are still "under review". British Midland declined to say if fares would be affected. The situation is complicated by the fact that there is no agreement as to whether charges should be levied on arriving or departing passengers. From Aberdeen to Belfast the PSCs amount to pounds 17.80, while in the opposite direction there is no charge at all.

"It's a complete shambles," a London travel agent said yesterday. "We've had less than two weeks' notice of the change, and we're faced with having to call hundreds of customers to tell them about the fare increases."

The change was instigated by British Airways. The reason cited was the ending of duty-free sales within the European Union from July this year. Faced with a loss of earnings from retailing, airports are expected to increase charges in the summer. Airlines want to make clear that such future rises are beyond their control.

Air fares in the UK are overseen by the Civil Aviation Authority. The chairman, Sir Malcolm Field, said: "We have been given an undertaking that levels of these fares will not rise automatically as a result of this change in ticketing."

Airport operators such as BAA, which owns Gatwick and Heathrow, are unhappy at fare increases being apportioned to them. A spokeswoman for BAA said yesterday: "There is no reason we can see for any increase relating to this separation of the PSC."

Low-cost airlines such as easyJet and Go, whose fares are fixed according to supply and demand, have no plans to add extra charges. "BA is putting up its prices, but in a backhand manner," said James Rothnie of easyJet. "We internalise all these costs as far as possible, and we endeavour to charge the lowest fares."

Leading article, Review,

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Where Costs Will Rise

Aberdeen to Belfast pounds 17.80

Belfast to Aberdeen nil

Glasgow to East Midlands pounds 13.70

East Midlands to Glasgow nil

Heathrow to Guernsey pounds 7.50

Guernsey to Heathrow nil

Manchester to Gatwick pounds 7.70

Gatwick to Manchester pounds 3.40

Sources: British Midland, IATA