BA urges its foreign passengers to help fight UK taxes

Says the tax deters holidaymakers and visitors

Beleaguered UK-based airline British Airways wants its frequent flyers, including those from the Middle East, to help it fight a hefty tax on flights departing the country.

In a personalised e-mail sent on August 27 to the airline’s non-UK-resident frequent flyers, BA CEO Keith Williams plays on the passengers’ stretched budget-strings to evoke a response – that of signing off on a pre-written letter to the UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer.

This follows the barrage of responses that UK airlines – primarily BA and Virgin Atlantic – managed to muster from their local passengers into pressurising their local MPs on the tax issue. It was reported last week that as many as 100,000 people had contacted their MPs complaining the air passenger tax is unacceptable.

The letter on behalf of overseas travellers too urges a reduction in the air travel tax in the UK which, according to the industry’s ‘A Fair Tax on Flying’ website, has the highest air passenger tax in the world, and only six European countries tax international air passengers.

The Fair Tax on Flying campaign, run by an alliance of more than 30 airlines and UK-based tour operators, says the tax is deterring both UK holidaymakers heading abroad and foreign travellers hoping to visit Britain.

“Dear Chancellor of the Exchequer, I have previously enjoyed visiting the United Kingdom from overseas and spending time in your country. I am contacting you to express my concerns about the impact of UK Air Passenger Duty (APD) on the cost of air travel. I am supporting the A Fair Tax on Flying campaign (www.aFairTaxonFlying.org<http://www.aFairTaxonFlying.org>) because I believe this tax is now too high and is pricing the UK out of the market,” says the letter that BA CEO wants its frequent flyers to sign off and sent across to the Chancellor.

“UK rates are twice the level of the next most expensive tax (levied in Germany). A family of four flying in Economy class between the UK and the United States, for example, pays £260 [Dh1,191] in APD tax, whereas in France the equivalent tax is only £38 [dh174]. That’s a big difference that is difficult for overseas travellers like me to ignore when deciding where to travel,” the letter adds.

“I trust the Chancellor takes notice of public opinion and commissions an independent study to look at how APD is damaging the UK economy,” Brian Donohoe MP, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Aviation, said last week.

“I understand it is your stated aim to make the UK one of the most competitive tax regimes in the world. I am not certain how levying the world’s highest air tax helps achieve this aim. I suspect that this tax is damaging your inbound tourism industry. It certainly places an additional cost on business travel. The tax you take when I purchase my ticket means I have less money to spend during my visit,” adds the letter written on behalf of non-UK-resident passengers.

“I believe that many other European countries, including Holland, Denmark and Belgium, have scrapped their APD because of the impact it was having on their economy… The Fair Tax on Flying campaign is calling for you to undertake research to determine the impact of APD on the UK economy. I hope you’ll consider the concerns of overseas visitors as part of any review. I very much look forward to hearing from you,” it concludes.

According to facts listed on the campaign website, the British Chambers of Commerce found that APD could cost the UK economy £10 billion in lost growth and up to 250,000 fewer jobs over the next 20 years.

In his email message, BA CEO Williams notes that, in the last six years, APD has risen more than 300 per cent on many routes while inflation has increased barely 20 per cent.

He says that some customers are paying £184 (Dh843) in air passenger duty for a single journey, while the cost for families taking their annual holiday has sky-rocketed: In 2006, a family of four flying from the UK to the Caribbean would pay £80 (Dh366) in APD – today they would pay £324 (Dh1,484) in World Traveller, or £648 (Dh2,968) in World Traveller Plus, Club World, or First.

“This level of increase has no justification and no international parallel. Yet the UK Government has firm plans to keep on raising APD every year to 2017,” says Williams.

“This tax also acts as a brake on growth and jobs for the whole economy by making it more difficult for businesses to reach new markets, and making the UK less attractive to overseas visitors,” he adds and goes on to urge the airline’s frequent flyers to click on a link to generate an automatic letter to the UK minister responsible for APD, George Osborne, calling for action on “a tax that is now far too high and inflicting real damage on the UK’s efforts to move out of recession”.

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