people sitting in a terminal

Let me put it this way, if Heathrow Airport was a retail store, you wouldn’t shop there.

They want to take the same sweater you recently purchased for £22 and make it £44 for no other reason than because they want more money. Like many others, they’re sad that they didn’t have another record year of billions in profit, and shareholders don’t see why their record sums shouldn’t be guaranteed each year.

Instead of making a more compelling product and convincing passengers to agree to new fees, they want a governing body to give them the money — just because. So far, it’s working.

And no, it’s not a better, sharper, or trendier sweater now. But seriously, sweaters aside, Heathrow wants to charge £44 per passenger, just in airport fees from 2022-2027. That’s not even including the UK’s astronomical passenger duty charges and other fees which also don’t go into airline pockets.

They’re not going to get £44, but they appear poised for £34 per person. This all comes after the CAA rejected a proposal from Heathrow for £2.3 billion to soften their year.

This would cause a significant rise in airline ticket prices, at a time when they industry needs “deals“. Again, airlines make nothing on them. They just have to include it in the price, which makes their prices look worse, which makes it harder to scream “sale!”

With passengers already facing new costs in travel, such as testing, it’s hard to see how these moves would help anyone other than Heathrow shareholders. It’s certainly not the catalyst to spark a travel recovery. Quite the opposite actually.

Free Markets, Or Captive Audience?

I believe in free markets, so I believe in Heathrow’s right to attempt this (piss-take) of a fee proposal to the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which governs Heathrow’s fees. They’re free to ask!

I just hoped that the free market would tell Heathrow where to shove it, because in a truly free market, it’s hard to think of any consumer who would support this in any way, if it wasn’t forced upon them by a governing body.

The Civil Aviation Authority appears to be bending to these privately held interests, with an early approval to potentially raise prices 56%. There’s still time for the CAA to act to stop this, as consultations continue.

It’s unfortunate that Heathrow Airport effectively holds the traveling public hostage like this. They deem themselves an essential transportation hub, so they demand to be paid whatever they want to be paid. More often than not, they get it. It makes me want real free market competition, with other airports doing more to weaken Heathrow’s claim.

Basically, the CAA needs to do its job. And in my opinion, to do that, the CAA needs to categorically reject almost everything Heathrow is asking for. There’s no public interest or benefit gained from these fees.

So far, they’ve just rejected a previous bid for 2.3 billion, on top of the £300m Heathrow demanded to reopen terminals.. They’ve rejected the £44, but countered with up to £34, which would still represent a 56% rise.

Why? What has Heathrow done? What is better? Do we all get ice cream?

For once, it appeared Heathrow shareholders would need to get real about business, and realize that not every year can be a record year, and Just because it’s not — doesn’t mean you can throw a tantrum and ask government for money. Yet now, it appears it’s once again the public holding the bag, as the CAA fails to act.

If finalized, these exorbitant pricing airport structures could make UK aviation less competitive.

people sitting in a terminal

Heathrow Fee Change Proposals

To dispel a long held and conflated opinion: Heathrow Airport is not a public “good” transportation hub. It’s not your tube, or local train station, which is there to fulfill a duty to the people, by the city.

Put those cute holiday bear advertisements (which I adore) aside and remember that Heathrow is like the most aggressive shopping experience in the world. Also, Heathrow is so lucky Love Actually was made.

Other European hubs are not attempting similarly insane fee proposals, which will only make it easier for these other hubs to gain more market share, with better flight deals. They’d just need to sell tickets from other UK airports to achieve it. I’d gladly fly from London City to Amsterdam, to Los Angeles, if I could save meaningful cash.

This is frustrating for UK airlines, which if these proposals are accepted, would have a more difficult time fighting off price wars, since the “built in” costs of their tickets are fixed due to the hikes.

From November 1st, they’re also going to charge whoever takes you to the airport £5 just to drop you off, even if you gracefully roll out of the car at low speed, in an attempt to avoid officially stopping, to be “dropped off”.

Heathrow’s Interests Aren’t Always Yours

Heathrow is a privately owned company, majority owned by Qatari, Chinese and Spanish multi-national corporations and state interests, and it hasn’t meaningfully improved any of its facilities during the pandemic.

I know, because I’ve traveled from there every few months, the entire time.

The airport just thinks it can get more money, so it’s going to try. Not by creating a better product, or proposing a vote with passengers, who would likely reject even a £1 rise, let alone £44 per person, per ticket, but by lobbying and pandering the CAA for the right to charge you more, without your interests in mind.

The CAA’s initial approval of fees up to £34 is shocking.

By throwing a hissy fit about recovering their “losses” and threatening airlines and the traveling public if they don’t get their way, it appears Heathrow is winning.

Heathrow Gets Too Much Credit

It’s important to remember what Heathrow is and isn’t as you pass through the airport, too. Bad immigration queues at Heathrow are not Heathrow’s fault, nor are good experiences the result of their work.

Great lounge facilities at Heathrow are not thanks to Heathrow, they’re thanks to airlines paying gouging fees to keep passengers happy (to Heathrow). Basically, they are just really expensive landlords, who assist with security and signage.

Shops in the terminal are the result of free market choices by consumer brands trying to sell stuff, and certainly not by the kindness of Heathrow. They pay very pricey rent. Heathrow can take some credit for the duty free though, sure.

Surely This Can’t Happen

UK aviation is already backed into a corner, due to government insistence on world leading passenger arrival and departure fees. Tickets may be more expensive than other places, but airlines don’t necessarily make more. They just send more money to Heathrow and UK Gov.

Heathrow now wants to pile in on the party, attempting to charge a truly ridiculous £44 per person, just to pass through their mediocre facility, which they already charge a hefty fee for.

I think it was always a bluff. Ask for 44 knowing you’d be happy with 34, knowing you really deserve none. It’s pretty simple, and simply surprising that the CAA is going along.

If you’ve ever been to Singapore, or Hong Kong, you’ve seen a real world standard airport in action. Fees there, of course, are far lower. Heathrow remains miles off, yet it wants to charge rockstar prices which have no benefit to the traveling public.

I certainly hope they don’t get their way.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Would have loved some info on a collective “here’s how we stand up to these greedy bar stewards”, write to MP, fill in the CAA consultation saying you don’t agree….

  2. And not to mention they forced their staff to take a £6000 pay drop because of the pandemic, when they said they had a 2 billion war chest to help it through the pandemic, everyone taken in an office and told take pay cut or your fired 😡

  3. Yep agree, you need to link to a petition, or provide email address of the Chair of the Commons Transport Committee, enough emails and that might change something!

  4. Well said. I wonder if any of LHR’s ownership group have shaken off the myopic view they’ve been holding. Taxes out of LHR are outrageous, airport fees are stunningly high, and there’s pretty much a monopoly by BA on landing slots. This makes for a terrible – and worsening – situation for passengers. Perhaps the ownership of LHR should simply be happy with their insanely fortunate situation and not risk killing the golden goose. Nope, too late.

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