Has the aviation industry gone too far?

By | Category: Travel rumblings

Manchester Airport. Dropping off passengers to catch flights is expensive

Last week a man was convicted of dangerous driving but, instead of being sent to gaol for six months, his sentence was suspended for two years.

The case is, in itself, not unusual. Dangerous driving convictions are legion in our countries but this one was a little different.

What had happened was that last July, the driver involved was using the drop-off zone at Manchester Airport. Just a little earlier that month, the airport had introduced a fee of £3 for using the zone for up to five minutes and £4 for ten minutes. The man refused to pay claiming that there were no signs saying that the charge was payable so, noticing that one of the barriers was open, he drove for that one. One of the parking attendants attempted to stop him and ended up on the bonnet of the car. He experienced probably a hair-raising journey before the vehicle stopped and he could get off.

As more and more airports introduce charges for just dropping off passengers is this man’s attitude an indication that passengers might be reaching the limits of the patience with the way that the aviation industry is fleecing passengers at every opportunity?

Clearly the man should not have driven off and placed the parking attendant’s life in danger. For that alone he deserves criticism but the attendant was foolhardy in attempting to stop him in this manner. Generally people are told that in any situation involving life-threatening circumstances they should avoid them. In this case, taking the licence number and calling the police would have been sufficient.

Heathrow – Passengers still don’t pay to use the drop-off zones…

The next interesting feature was that when the man appeared in court the judge appeared to have sided with him by doling out a lenient sentence. Not only that Judge Lever, who has sat on the bench for seventeen years, was quoted as saying that the charges for using the drop-off zone were “an absolute disgrace.” That presumably is why the sentence was suspended. He also said that he was 100% against the airport behaving in this manner against people who have no or little choice at dropping their families at the airport in this way.

Needless to say the airport was quick to criticise the judge saying, ““It is, in our view, irresponsible for someone in a position of authority to be sending this kind of message to road users about the consequences of dangerous driving. “

It also justified the use of charging for using the drop-off zone. “Drop-off charges, which have been in place at airports across the UK for many years, have been proven to have a positive impact on congestion on our site, which makes it particularly disappointing the Judge’s comments have been made without an attempt to understand the reasons behind their introduction, the way in which they operate and the free alternatives available to passengers.”

They have also had a positive impact on the balance sheets of airports.

The judge was also right to point out that many airline passengers do not have an alternative to using a particular airport since only certain airports have certain flights. It is different if I was flying to Malaga or Tenerife. Then I have a wide choice of airports from which to choose.

…nor do they at Cardiff Airport © Richard Swingler

As to whether they have no choice but to use a vehicle rather than public transport that also has some truth in it. If you want to use Heathrow and you live in somewhere like Leatherhead, Epsom, Cobham or, Dorking you have few options unless you want to spend hours getting there. You can catch the train to London and either catch a bus from Victoria Coach station, the tube or the train from Paddington. The alternative is a bus to somewhere like Worcester Park and pick up the X-26 to Heathrow. The alternative is a thirty or-forty minute ride by car around the M25. Thankfully Heathrow doesn’t charge for dropping-off passengers.

Drop-off charges are beginning to rile people. And with only Heathrow and Gatwick being the last two large airports not to impose charges it is difficult to take your business elsewhere. Living say in Bolton, I would have to pay if I flew from Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds-Bradford. If I lived in Stirling my alternatives of Glasgow or Edinburgh would  charge me. Thank goodness Cardiff is still free as is Belfast City, Cork, Dublin, Channel Isle Airports, Inverness, London City, Isle of Man, Newquay and Norwich even if it is only for ten minutes or so.

… or Gatwick

But people’s forbearance is not just wearing thin with airports. Airlines are also in the firing line. Italy is enquiring into Ryanair’s newly announced hand baggage charges. Readers might remember that the airline is limiting your free carry-on allowance to one small bag. The Italians claim that hand luggage should be included in the price of the ticket. That raises an interesting point.

Many years ago, the EU investigated airlines and “hidden fees” declaring that airlines should be transparent in their charges. The idea was to remove those late additions to a bill for credit card charges or the infamous administrative charges.

Could you now argue that airlines by having broken down the elements of a fare are making it even more confusing for the passenger to know what the true fare is? The headline fare that lures us to one airline or another is certainly not the final fare that we will pay.

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