The extra charges at airports are making flying a hassle

The smallest the airport, the bigger the charges, while rails don't demand any extra cost for using the stations 

Simon Calder
Friday 30 October 2015 17:38 GMT
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Newquay’s airport is dropping its £5 departure fee
Newquay’s airport is dropping its £5 departure fee (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

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The extra charges of the flight brigade

Flying, as you will have noticed, is rarely stress-free. Most of the pressures are loaded on the start of the journey: reaching the airport, checking in luggage and getting through security. Increasingly, airports like to add yet more obstacles, imposing charges – and the hassle that goes with them – on anything from dropping off passengers to using a baggage trolley.

Among British airports, small is generally beautiful. Heathrow and Gatwick may have the best facilities to fill all the “dwell time” that passengers typically allow themselves; but getting from station or car park to departure gate is a much less-formidable challenge at London City and Southend, the capital’s smallest airports.

Regional airports, particularly the far-flung variety, are well placed to make leaving on a jet plane less gruelling. Sadly, some have closed as a result of exactly the quality that made them so appealing: the absence of other passengers. Dwindling demand led to the closure of the airports at Plymouth and Manston in Kent.

Some surviving small airports surrender their aesthetic advantages by imposing an extra surcharge on departing passengers. It is customary for all taxes, fees and charges to be bundled into your air fare. But three UK airports demand that you pause at check-in for the privilege of paying for a barcoded piece of paper, which moments later you hand over to an official to allow you to proceed through security to the departure gate.

Norwich demands £10 for an “Airport Development Fee”. Durham Tees Valley won’t facilitate your journey unless you pay a £6 “Passenger Facility Fee”. And Newquay insists travellers must hand over a fiver “to help fund the development of facilities and infrastructure”.

Does that mean the Cornish airport has plans for world domination, turning the South West’s gateway into a rival for Dubai or Singapore? No. The real reason the surfers’ favourite airport overcomplicates the business of catching a plane is to make advertised air fares appear cheaper than they actually are.

Kiss kerfuffle goodbye

From Newquay a month from now, the cheapest one-way ticket to London is £34, whether you take a Flybe plane to Gatwick or a Great Western train to Paddington. But GWR will not demand an extra £5 for the privilege of using Newquay station. Nor, in my experience, will the train operator require you to turn up half-an-hour early, rummage through your smalls, demand you remove your shoes and belt, then leave your luggage in Cornwall, which is what happened last time I flew out of the county’s airport.

Given the prodigious subsidies paid from the public purse to passengers at Newquay, asking for a fiver back looks petty. Cornwall County Council supports each traveller using the airport by an average of £10, while that Gatwick link attracts an additional subsidy of £28 a head. This week, the council finally voted to scrap Newquay’s Airport Development Fee next spring.

Fee-free flight plan

On Wednesday, Cornwall Council announced: “Removing this charge will encourage more airlines to come to Newquay.” By Thursday, as if by magic, Ryanair turned up at the Cornish airport to announce it was returning to the South West in April, with flights to Alicante and the German airport of Hahn (ambitiously billed as “Frankfurt” by the Irish airline). Ryanair abandoned its previous spell at Newquay in 2011.

The new flights will benefit people flying out from the South West and should boost the Cornish economy. But consider some airports with which Ryanair has previously flirted, such as Forli in Italy and Balaton in Hungary. These airports don’t charge a passenger facility fee, but then they have no passengers.

Meanwhile, at another former Ryanair airport, Blackpool, the £10 “development fee” was such a success that the airport has now closed.

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