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Taxes turned the golden age of flying into a total nightmare

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Taxes turned the golden age of flying into a total nightmare

Unread post by bimjim » Fri Aug 09, 2019

https://digitaledition.telegraph.co.uk/ ... GCTPVKXNOA


Taxes turned the golden age of flying into a total nightmare
Matthew Lynn

Mile-long queues at security. Nothing to eat but overpriced, stale sandwiches, while the software crashes and the plane is delayed. Kids going crazy, staff walking out on strike and, at the end of it, a cramped orange/purple/magenta seat that doesn’t recline, has a strange whiff of beer about it, and is right next to a stag party from Middlesbrough. Welcome to the special kind of hell that is flying out of Britain on holiday.

Cancellations and delays at British Airways, the airline that long ago gave up on trying to describe itself as the “world’s favourite” in case people started laughing, are just the latest episode of summer chaos at our main airports. Every year, the same sorry mess unfolds, as one airline or another, or one or more airport, is hit by delays, strikes and cancellations. It is easy to blame the airlines for turning their industry into Colditz-with-wings. But there may be another culprit, and one who doesn’t get as much blame as he should. The Chancellor. Or rather, successive chancellors.

The misery of modern air travel is a puzzle, at least to anyone who generally believes that free markets and competition are good for us all. Most products get cheaper and better over time. Our mobile phones are far more sophisticated than they were a decade ago. So are televisions, cars, cinemas and supermarkets.

But air travel? True, the planes themselves are more advanced technologically: they don’t seem much different inside, but they are safer, more fuel-efficient, and more reliable than ever before. And while flying has become dramatically cheaper as it has been deregulated and opened up to competition, it has at the same time been turned into a uniquely chaotic, miserable experience.

OK, we don’t quite expect a glamorous Sixties world of trolley dollies and sharp‑suited stewards serving vodka martinis and peanuts as we fly off to Malaga for thirty quid. But just because it is cheaper, it shouldn’t be that much worse. Restaurant chains, to take one comparison, have made eating out affordable to many more people, but they are also, on the whole, pretty good. It is just flying that has been brutalised.

The airlines may be partly responsible. They have cut corners, reduced costs, sweated the aircraft, and restructured the staff, in pursuit of profits in a way that may ultimately have ended up trashing their brands.

But air passenger duty can’t escape blame. In the quarter of a century since it was introduced in 1993, the tax has been increased by successive governments until it is not just a lucrative source of revenue (it rakes in more than £3.5 billion a year) but also forms a huge part of the cost of operating an airline.

Every time an airline sells a seat, it also has to hand over a big chunk of the revenue to the government. In such a competitive market, it is very, very hard to increase prices. The only thing the airlines can do is absorb the levy, and desperately try to cut costs elsewhere.

Without such a huge tax burden, we might have mid‑market airlines that charge fair prices and offer a decent service. Instead, the highest aviation taxes in the world have turned our airports into neon-lit cattle sheds. Perhaps the Chancellor should think about cutting the duty – especially if he happens to find himself with 40 hours to while away in a departure lounge some time over the summer.

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