Despite the recent chaos at Manchester Airport, charges for dropping off and picking up passengers continued to be collected.

Despite the recent chaos at Manchester Airport, charges for dropping off and picking up passengers continued to be collected.
© Adobe Stock / Skórzewiak

The Second Travel Tax: Hidden Fees at UK Airports

British airports have suddenly latched on a previously ignored revenue stream: a drop-off/collection fee for airport passengers.

Imagine your supermarket starts charging you a non-refundable fee to enter their premises each time you went shopping, or your local post office is charging you to enter, in order to buy a stamp. You would very quickly take your business elsewhere..., wouldn‘t you?

A relatively recent new charge levied on the motorist has spread like a wildfire throughout the UK – the airport passenger drop-off/collection fee. Often referred to by drivers as an “airport tax” or “admission charge”, airports have suddenly latched onto this previously ignored revenue stream. This is not only irritating for air travellers, but even more so for the motorists who aren’t actually travelling, taxis included, but drop off or collect their passengers. Airports charge these highly-profitable fees solely on the basis that they can do it. Based on the last count, it has been suggested that these fees will generate a staggering £105 million a year for UK airports, £14.5 million at London Gatwick and £12 million at Manchester Airport alone.

A previously untapped source of revenue

Airports are quick to give some feeble excuse for these new charges, including “traffic relief”, and “environmental considerations”. But they are far too economical with the truth to admit, that it is simply a previously untapped source of revenue for the airport. If they were to pay more attention to easing passenger traffic within their terminals (notwithstanding the recent queuing problems caused by Brexit) rather than penalising the already over-taxed motorist, it might be slightly more acceptable.

What upsets motorist even more, is when they arrive at the airport for the expected time of arrival of a flight and being charged extra as a result of delayed arrivals, inefficient passenger and/or baggage handling and customs delays, which are solely the airports’ responsibility. To further add to this misery, real-time travelling information on smartphone apps can be quite unpredictable, and there is nowhere for the motorists to stop on airport property for just a few moments in order to check for updates, if they want to abide by the law and ensure they are not using a mobile device while driving.

Fancy a walk in the often-inclement weather?

Sadly, the most upsetting aspect is that the airports are perceived to simply not even care, at all. Despite the recent chaos at Manchester Airport, when travel restrictions were lifted, charges for dropping off and picking up passengers continued to be collected.

Suggesting to the drivers to drop off/collect passengers using long-stay car parks, where sometimes a longer period of free or cheaper parking is available, actually is an insult to families with young children and the level of baggage they have to carry. Take Leeds/Bradford Airport: Wherever you park, you will still face a considerable walk in the often-inclement weather there to get to the terminal. Although, to be fair, Leeds/Bradford has since become one of the cheapest airports for short-term parking.

There was an unbelievable situation, some ten years ago, when it was cheaper to park a small aircraft at some airports overnight than it was to park a car!

Should we use inconveniently located parking?

It’s not just the “family or friend” drivers who face this airport entry/exit tax. Airport management blithely expects professional drivers (taxis) to pay the charge on the basis that the taxi will pass the cost on to the passenger, which the unfortunate taxi driver usually cannot afford not to. No matter how they sugarcoat it, it’s purely and simply a tax on the motorist that passengers cannot (or, as the airports know so well, won’t be able to) avoid. Plus, the unethical penalties the airports also charge drivers for ‘breaking’ their ‘rules’, very often for the smallest of demeanours, are similar to daylight robbery.

The airports’ weak arguments they will spout, parroting one another, as either “easing traffic” or “saving the environment”, have been debunked, because a car, whether family, friend or taxi, would have to be used one way or the other to drop off or collect passengers. And it also displays the airports’ disregard for families who, as airport users after all, ultimately provide their profits. Surely families cannot be expected to look after their children and carry luggage from public transport, or to use inconveniently located parking that is unsuitable as an option, to being dropped off at the door of premises where, once inside, they will be spending their money at captive-audience prices?

Fees charged by UK airports

Some of the fees charged by UK airports (as per 3 Aug 2022) for dropping off passengers, in descending order of expense:

£7.00: Stansted

£6.00: Manchester

£5.00: Bristol, East Midlands, Gatwick, Heathrow, Leeds/Bradford, Luton

£4.00: Aberdeen, Doncaster/Sheffield, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle, Southend

£3.80: London City

£3.40: Inverness

£3.00: Birmingham, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Exeter

£2.00: Prestwick

£2.00: Southampton Port

London Stansted airport currently has the UK’s most expensive drop-off/collect fees.
© Ed Moss
London Stansted airport currently has the UK’s most expensive drop-off/collect fees.
Edward Moss
Edward Moss
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