A new transit fee for passengers travelling through UK airports could put the country’s aviation sector at a “competitive disadvantage” as passengers opt to travel via other countries, airline groups have warned.
Under the incoming changes, visa-exempt travellers passing through Britain will be required to pay £10 fee and apply for an online permit, known as the Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA).
Passengers may have to wait up to three days for a decision on the ETA, the government has said.
ETAs are set to be introduced in November, with the scheme limited to only Qatari citizens first, but it is set to be expanded internationally thereafter.
But Airlines UK, which represents major airlines including British Airways, Easyjet and Virgin Atlantic, said the ETA could “place UK aviation at a competitive disadvantage,” adding it was “surprised” to hear that it is being applied to customers transiting through the UK.
The sector is concerned that the additional transit fee could see customers opt to travel via other rival airports rather than Heathrow, hitting airlines such as BA and Virgin Atlantic.
The Board of Airline Representatives (BAR UK) said that although the ETA would bring security benefits and help with processing passengers, “airlines do not support the principle of implementing a new charge on visa-exempt passengers transiting the UK since they are not crossing the border.”
BAR UK added that they are currently “evaluating the potential for market distortion,” as the European Union is currently planning to exempt transit passengers under their similar scheme.
Heathrow Airport said that transiting passengers play a key role in boosting tourism and trade, and that “the UK government should ensure visa and border policies do not generate any competitive disadvantage.”
Travel experts in the sector have slammed the policy as needlessly detrimental for aviation and the UK’s major airlines.
Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told City A.M. that ETA’s would “simply encourage passengers to transit somewhere which doesn’t have a financial barrier in place.”
“The UK has a ridiculous habit of applying policies which will put off some people from travelling through its airports,” he added.
A Home Office spokesperson said that the ETA scheme would “enhance our border security… by increasing our knowledge about those seeking to come to the UK and preventing the arrival of those who pose a threat, including those transiting through the UK.”
“Requiring transit passengers to obtain an ETA will stop transit being a future loophole for people to use to avoid needing an ETA,” the spokesperson added.
IATA, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways declined to comment.