Heathrow vs airlines: Dispute intensifies over plans to double airport charges

Airlines have condemned Heathrow over plans to almost double landing charges, in the airport’s latest attempt to claw back losses after the pandemic halted international travel. 

Long-haul passenger charges will surge from £38.33 per traveller this year to £67.86 in 2022, according to leaked Heathrow proposals first reported by the Telegraph. 

But airline carriers have hit back at the proposals, arguing that Heathrow’s investors – who are largely based overseas – should provide more funding, rather than passing losses onto other areas of the travel industry or customers.

A spokesman for trade body Airlines UK said: “We’re extremely concerned that Heathrow’s proposed charges will have a detrimental impact on consumers – the majority of whom have been prevented from travelling for the last 18 months – and the recovery of the entire aviation industry.”

Virgin Atlantic said that if the full increase goes ahead, it would cost a family of four flying to Florida an additional £200, compared with 2019.

“In the midst of the worst ever crisis to hit the travel and aviation industry, Heathrow is prioritising its shareholders at the expense of airlines and consumers,” said Virgin Atlantic chief operating officer Corneel Koster.

“Just as UK airlines have raised significant funds from shareholders to weather the pandemic, it’s only right that Heathrow turns to its owners first, before loading the burden onto paying customers and an industry already severely hampered by Covid-19,” he added.   

Heathrow also intends to introduce a new cargo levy – what Koster judged “effectively a tax on trade,” after it provided a vital revenue stream for airlines when flights were grounded.

It comes a week after Heathrow revealed it had slumped to 10th on the list of Europe’s busiest airports, down from first place pre-pandemic in 2019.

Passenger numbers at the airport last month were down 71 per cent on pre-pandemic levels, a fall chief executive John Holland-Kaye blamed on the government’s “traffic light” travel restrictions and testing requirements.

As well as accumulating debts of almost £20bn during the pandemic, Heathrow has fallen behind European rivals Amsterdam, Paris and Frankfurt.