/ Travel & Leisure

Airport users are paying more to prevent terminal decline

Departure gate sign

In 2010, more airports than ever before have been charging passengers for vehicle drop-offs, luggage trolleys and compulsory departure fees. Is this really an outrage or a financial necessity to keep local airports alive?

It’s been a big year for stealth airport fees. Belfast International, East Midlands and Edinburgh airports have each brought in a £1 charge for vehicles dropping passengers off at the terminal. Bristol and Luton have raised their baggage trolley fee to £2.

And then in November, Durham Tees Valley airport introduced a mandatory £6 charge for all adults passing through security. That’s another £6 on top of the airport fees already on your flight ticket. But is it fair that everyone who goes through the airport has to pay another fee?

However, as I was researching the subject for a report on airport fees in the January issue of Which? Travel, I found that it may not be quite the penny-pinching scandal it appears.

Small airports struggling to survive?

Airports receive no state funding. Instead, they charge airlines a fee to use their premises and services – this is then passed on to us in the flight ticket price. Airport operators say times have been financially tougher since the abolition of EU duty free shopping and the decline in passenger numbers.

It’s the regional airports in particular that have been struggling with lower passenger numbers (and profits). If the airline industry is having a tough time, routes may be dropped or airlines may pull out of certain airports entirely.

These airports say they must keep charges to the airlines (especially no-frills carriers) low in order to persuade them to operate there. But the cash-strapped airport has to recoup money elsewhere, especially if it’s embarking on large improvement projects.

A price worth paying?

Assuming it’s true that smaller airports genuinely need to add extra charges like these to survive, then I think it’s a price worth paying.

If the same charge had instead been added to the overall flight ticket price, few passengers would be angered by that – most of us probably wouldn’t even realise anyway. At Durham, they’re simply paying their airport fees in two instalments, rather than one at the time of buying the ticket.

More airports mean more choice for us. I’d rather pay £6 every time I fly from my local airport than not have this option at all because it had closed down through airline pull-outs.

As long as the airports, airlines and tour operators ensure that people are aware of any compulsory charges in advance, and the amounts don’t soar extortionately, I don’t have a big issue with these terminal fees. Do you?


I wish more flights departed from my local airport as I’m pretty restricted unless I want to fly to Baghdad, Kabul or Mogadishu 🙂

The whole industry needs to be more open about charges so that people are more informed. No one forces us to fly but knowing in advance what all the fees and charges are allows us at least to make a decision on who to fly with, where to fly from or, indeed, whether to fly at all.

It used to be that we all paid Airport tax. A fair charge to levy on passengers because, after all, we are using the facilities and all passengers paid the same, regardless of carrier or destination.

But then post-9/11 and with rising oil costs we’ve had all sorts of things like ‘security tax’ and fuel surcharges, which seem to vary between carriers who seem to use them as a legitimate way to bolster ticket prices.

I think fair enough about imposing a charge – but lets have it up front so that we can make our own choices. After all, paying an extra £6 at Durham-Tees and being able to get someone to drop you off might actually mean not having to fork out £50 for a week’s parking elsewhere.

pickle says:
19 December 2010

I think the problem is that there are so many of these extras are hidden – there should be a schedule given to each person before they get to the airport so they know what to expect.

If the charge applies to over 90% of passengers then its shouldnt be called an “Extra” as is cant be avoided, it should then be included in the fare.

Just to explain that we have updated this post (originally posted in November) to tie in with the report in this month’s issue of Which? Travel.

I think that if, for an airport to survive, it needs to charge extra for things like plastic bags, luggage trolleys or even Airport Development Fees, then I wouldn’t mind paying for these as long as I know in advance. The last thing I want is to arrive at the airport and be told that I can’t get on my plane unless I pay a fiver before departure…that feels like being robbed, but if I knew in advance and was told what this extra charge was for (ie to help pay for the development of my local airport) then I wouldn’t mind as much.