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A deeper look into UK airport fees: why does this matter?

If you are a frequent traveller to UK, you will notice that airfares are always inherently expensive when you fly out of airports within the UK.

UK airports have infamously high airport taxes, probably one of the highest in the world. Those who have redeemed miles on those flights before will know that there is a usually a hefty fee added on top of the miles used for the flight and you wonder why.

Let us break it down. Typically, UK airports levy two fees, a UK air passenger duty (APD) levied by the UK authorities, and a passenger service charge by the airport. Both of these are included in your fare at the time of booking.

UK air passenger duty

This is relatively straightforward and also the one that is insane. There are essentially three rates – reduced, standard and higher – applied across two distance bands.

Reduced rates apply to the lowest class of travel on the plane with seat pitch (distance between your seat back and the seat in front of you) up to 40 inches. This means all economy class seats across most airlines. If the airline operate a business class only product with pitch greater than 40 inches, passengers pay the standard rate.

Standard rates apply to all other class of travel OR seats with pitch over 40 inches. So if you are travelling premium economy, tough luck, you pay this rate. But if Singapore Airlines went crazy and bring its two-class A350 to London where premium economy is the lowest class on the plane, then these lucky people pay reduced rates.

Higher rates only apply to essentially private planes – “planes of 20 tonnes or more equipped to carry 19 or fewer passengers”.

The two distance bands are:

  • Band A where the distance from London to the destination’s capital city is 2,000 miles or less (effectively anywhere with the EU)
  • Band B is everywhere else, from Dubai, New York, Singapore to Sydney.

Essentially, band A destinations are about a four-hour flight radius from London, but the exact list can be found on the UK HMRC’s website.

Note that the distance bands is calculated based on your final destination. If you fly Air France to Paris Charles de Gaulle with a connecting service to Singapore on the same ticket, you pay band B’s rates. But if you decide to buy two tickets, one easyJet ticket to France and then another ticket from Paris to Singapore, then you pay Band A’s rate.

Now the insane part, the rates. For 2019 & 2020, here are the rates:

In summary, any journey that terminates within the EU attract a fairly modest rate, at GBP13 for economy class passengers and GBP26 for premium class passengers.

However, if you are travelling long haul, like to the US, or to Asia, the tax shoots up: GBP78 per person in economy class, and a cool GBP172 in premium economy, business or first class, and set to increase by another GBP4 in 2020.

That is insane.

Passenger Service Charge

On top of the APD, each airport also charges its own passenger service charge, a fee levied on passengers through the airlines for the use of the airport.

In 2019, these are the major UK airport’s fees:

Heathrow AirportEU destinations – GBP19.84
Other destinations – GBP46.02
Gatwick AirportGBP13.74
Stansted AirportGBP12.79
London City AirportGBP39.88 (including security levy)

Factor the above on top of the Air Passenger Duty, you are looking at a lot of surcharges over and above your air fare. On top of this, you should also be factoring in the cost of getting to/from the airport. For instance, while Heathrow and London City are both served by the London tube network which can be relatively inexpensive to get to, but other airports like Stansted and Gatwick will cost significantly more to get to.

So you don’t want to pay those hefty taxes

If you want to fly premium class but baulk at the taxes, fret not. You do have some options, and here are two strategies you can choose:

1. Fly out of Paris or any other European ports. There two ways to do this: one is to simply not end in London but finish up somewhere else in Europe before heading out. The second is to plan well ahead. You can possibly get a cheap Eurostar ticket to Paris and head to the airport on the cheap if you book early enough.

2. Self-connect at a European airport before heading home. If you break up your journey on two separate tickets before heading home, that will help less the burden. You can often get a cheap ticket to another city for under S$100 (a little more with bags), before you fly home.

3. Consider positioning yourself to a nearby city before flying back to your home country via London. For instance, go to Dublin, and then buy a flight back from Dublin via London. This way, London will only be a connecting city (or transit), so you won’t have to pay the departure tax of London. Note that this only works if you are redeeming miles (and it won’t cost you more).

Final thoughts

The UK is one of the most (ridiculously) expensive places to fly out of, and unnecessarily so given the poor airport experience and ridiculous price of getting to and from the airport.

There are no good and fuss free way to steer away from these fees, as these fees are levied by the UK government. It also makes the city a lot less attractive to visit, and is in no way a good measure of improving the air travel industry in any way.

To keep yourself up to date with the latest, visit UK government’s APD website here.

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