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Heathrow increases its passenger charge to £30.19 per person from next month

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The on-going battle between Heathrow Airport and the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) over what it can charge airlines – which falls straight through to the price of your ticket, as one of the ‘taxes and charges’ you pay – continues.

Yesterday, the CAA told Heathrow what it can charge from the start of next year – a whopping £30.19 per person on average.

As you would expect, Heathrow is not happy and neither are the airlines – for totally different reasons.

The CAA publishes its view on Heathrow's proposed fee increases

Heathrow believes that, since its income is effectively capped by the CAA at below the market rate, it deserves some retrospective protection for the drop in income last year. That said, it still reportedly paid out a £106 million dividend to its shareholders in 2020 and did not need to raise new equity.

The airlines believe that Heathrow has a de facto monopoly on premium air travel in London and should be constrained appropriately, for the benefit of passengers and the wider economy.

As we covered earlier this year, Heathrow Airport has already added an £8.90 surcharge to all tickets issued.

It is fully within its rights to do this, since there is an agreement with the airlines that guarantees a minimum income level to cover the cost of running certain facilities. This income level was not reached in 2020 and the £8.90 surcharge will continue until the difference is made up.

£30.19 is a temporary fudge

The CAA is currently preparing a new charging formula to cover the period from mid 2022 to 2027.

Heathrow has asked for permission to increase charges on long-haul flights to £67.86 per person from Summer 2022, with a lower figure for short haul and domestic flights. This is unlikely to happen, but the CAA is generally regarded by the airlines as a bit of a pushover.

One sign of progress is that the CAA admits that ‘gold plating’ needs to end. At present, because Heathrow’s agreed returns are based on what it invests in the airport, there is an incentive to – literally – gold plate the toilets if allowed. The more it spends, the more it can earn. The CAA says:

“we consider that stronger incentives are needed to protect the interests of consumers from the increased costs that they would otherwise face were HAL to make inefficient capex investments.”

For comparison, the £30.19 charge for 2022 is up from the current average of £22. The charge added to your ticket is likely to be different as the airport is, I believe, allowed to allocate charges between long haul, short haul and domestic flights as it wishes to reach the £30.19 average.

Heathrow was apoplectic at the news that it will only be able to charge £30.19 per passenger for the first half of 2022. It said:

“We are extremely disappointed in this interim decision from the CAA. It relies on rushed analysis and will undermine passenger experience at the UK’s hub airport.

As an example, the CAA’s flawed analysis assumes that operating costs at Heathrow next year will be £173m lower than our budget. This is even lower than we were able to achieve in 2020, when we served half as many passengers with only one runway and two terminals operating and the benefit of a government furlough scheme. 

There are material and basic errors in many aspects of the CAA’s assessment. Uncorrected, this risks leaving Heathrow without sufficient cashflow to support investment in improving passenger service and resilience.

The decision by the CAA differs materially from the forecast assumed in our Investor Report published last week. We will analyse the impact and consider whether issuing an update in January is necessary. We are making a detailed submission to the CAA, and expect a more considered outcome when it makes its final decision in Spring 2022.”

You can read the CAA’s full adjudication letter here (PDF).

It does at least admit that:

“We are conscious of the challenges that the level of the holding price cap [£30.19] will create in the short term for consumers and, in the context above, the airlines that serve them.”

…. although this didn’t stop it agreeing to the figure.

Comments (75)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Sam Wardill says:

    There must be a better way to manage privatised monopoly assets. I used to work for an electricity distribution company and was involved in a negotiation with ofgem. The dynamic was exactly as you suggest. There is a perverse incentive to spend on capex. It doesn’t really matter if you use gold plate as long as it costs as much as gold plate.

    • Muzer says:

      Yeah, nationalise them, then stop considering voting for governments who will underfund them…

  • ChrisC says:

    Yes that £30.19 is very much an average across long and short haul and also across the months of the year so lower in winter and higher in summer with some shoulder months.

    Also to note that the current average – £22 plus the current £8.90 surcharge = £ 30.90 so almost identical to the proposed rate.

  • Paul says:

    And there is the cost of getting there on top of these charges with the new £5 drop off charge added to ensure you cannot avoid giving them cash. For some, the cost of getting through LHR is higher than a flight ticket!
    I don’t think people would mind if it was not such an awful place to be a passenger. Security is appalling, even now the queues are ridiculous, the toilets stink; the entire place epitomises rip off Britain, just look at the prices in so called duty free! Drink is often cheaper in Tesco!

    • Novice says:

      All UK airports are the worst in the world out of any developed country and believe me I’ve traveled to most of them.

      MAN supposedly has a new terminal and is supposed to be better now but it’s designed so bad that honestly last time I was there I was wishing for the old derelict terminals.

      Usually UK have some the best architects who design world renowned buildings but apparently they only do it in other countries.😒

      • PeteM says:

        You must have missed quite a few then, Novice – particularly in the US, France, Spain, Italy…

        • Novice says:

          I was talking about main hubs and I stand by my comments UK airports are crap…

      • Paul says:

        I am with you, to date 165 airports across the world and while LHR might be shiny and new in places, it is appallingly inefficient, dirty, expensive and unfriendly. The usual war cry of those who defend mediocrity, is “look elsewhere” Yes there are worse airports but my word there are so many so much better and without the prices that LHR charge. Indeed next time the CEO stands in front of cameras to plead poverty he might as well wear a mask.

      • Toppcat says:

        Couldn’t disagree more, Novice. I think LHR and LGW are now some of the best customer experiences out of any airport I have been to in the recent past (excluding the very top tier – Changi, Doha etc). Security and passport control have generally been a breeze, but maybe I have been lucky.

        There are a lot of European airports that are a lot worse to use. Let’s not get started on the US…

      • dougzz99 says:

        Novice have you been to the new Berlin airport? It’s an absolute shitshow particularly the security aspect. It doesn’t matter what architects design, within a short time frame any space from the design aspect will be crowded with retail. Want a perfect example of this have a look at Stansted over the years.

        • Novice says:

          Depends on personal experience… I hate most airports anyway but I expect old hubs to be efficient and google layout dye to the fact they have been there long enough to know what they should do.

          Changi is the best imo. I have no problems with that. Also the me3 hubs are good.

          Ams, cdg are good too imo.

          I haven’t been to new berlin but I think new airport design is going in the wrong direction.

          • Novice says:

            Not google layout 😂 I mean good

          • dougzz99 says:

            CDG is awful. Schiphol? Where the taxi to the runway can take longer than the flight to London. Odd examples of good as I see it.

    • TM says:

      I love LHR – perhaps skewed by the fact I am a londoner so it costs me £1.50 to get there by tube, don’t need to even bother using fast track security as its so efficient most of the time and a massive lounge selection.

      Vs STN, LTN or LGW that all require a train >£10 with inefficient security and poor lounges.

      Don’t ever need to buy anything in duty free – bring your own food and drink if you don’t have lounge access?

      • Lady London says:

        Not for much longer TM. Heathrow on the Piccadilly Line is going to be made permanently Peak Rate Pricing.

    • Lady London says:

      Isn’t the Heathrow branch of the Piccadilly Line being moved to “All Day Peak” pricing as well?

  • Doc says:

    Usual nonsense with CAA ultimately not doing too much apart from talking a lot but not too much action.
    Unfortunately it’s the travelling public that gets the hit.
    With COVID, transit through European hubs from non London airports are now problematic and so Heathrow has got us by the balls till we pay.

    • Novice says:

      Thanks to brexit 😒 Had we been in EU the pandemic couldn’t have stopped us traveling to EU countries.

      Now we get banned from EU whenever they get an excuse.

  • Umberto says:

    So when Heathrow makes huge profits, shareholders get rich and top management receives fat bonuses. When they do not, we pay? Pathetic.

    • Lady London says:

      Yes that’s exactly why Heathrow is whining now. After you strip out their debt that is used as a way to pay less tax and funnel money to shareholders and fatcat packages for management, Heathrow is on a sound base for profits in the future (so they’ll have to take on more debt 🙂 ) and hasn’t actually suffered anything like as much as other businesses during Covid.

      This is all about Heathrow taking advantage of a temporary situational opportunity to whine and get a higher cost base subsidy for the future. So they can keep Heathrow loaded with debt and cream off even more profits for shareholders.

    • dougzz99 says:

      That’s privatisation. Vote Tory

  • Lee says:

    We have Richard Moriarty of the CAA for rubber stamping Heathrow’s Passenger charge hike. Beggers belief how he got his job to allow private companies to be able to increase the burden on passengers and airlines in a crisis way beyond inflation.

    • Novice says:

      They must be paying him just like Masi was getting paid to rob LH of f1 championship.

  • Lou says:

    Being based in South West London, despite being significantly nearer to me, Heathrow is a pain to get to. It takes me just as long to go to Gatwick. I don’t think we’re going to see the great business revival as it once was. More remote working paired with team get togethers, rather than going straight from the office for that business meeting leaves me thinking over time Heathrow will grow irrelevant

    • Novice says:

      I said this last year. Employers and employees have seen the benefits of working from home and are used to zoom. It’s here to stay.

  • Lee says:

    Heathrow doesn’t deserve any passengers with that attitude. I hope their passenger numbers drop because of it and they get knocked down a peg or two.

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