There's no doubt about it—London is an expensive city. That happens to include its major international airport, Heathrow, known for levying massive taxes onto passengers. And thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the airport has just upped the ante with a new tax burden for all passengers departing from its terminals.
Technically billed as a "United Kingdom Exceptional Regulatory Charge" or an "R1" charge, the tax is 8.90 pounds (about $12.30), no matter what class of service you're flying or how far you're flying. While it's not explicitly a COVID-19 tax, check out the statement below, issued by a Heathrow spokesperson to The Points Guy:
“Heathrow provides key airport services like the baggage system, colleague car parks, airline check-in desks and utilities for our partners to use. The fee to use these services is calculated purely to cover the cost of providing them – Heathrow makes absolutely zero profit from these services. To ensure this remains the case, the fee is closely monitored by the CAA, as well as being scrutinised and agreed with airport users annually – as was the case with this year’s charge. The cost per passenger to cover these services naturally fluctuates depending on the number of passengers using the airport.”
Essentially, the airport must pay for certain services no matter how many passengers are actually flying. In regular times, the standard taxes paid by the passengers would cover these expenses, but as fewer people are flying during the pandemic, the airport is collecting less money than usual. Therefore, Heathrow has added this new tax to make up for the loss.
While a roughly $12 tax doesn't seem so bad on the surface, remember that Heathrow already collects dozens if not hundreds of dollars (well, technically pounds) in taxes. The worst offender is the U.K. Air Passenger Duty (APD), which the British government implemented in 1994 to dissuade passengers from flying as a matter of environmental concern. Its (relatively sound) reasoning was that if flights were more expensive, fewer people would fly. Currently, passengers can expect to pay anywhere from 13 pounds (~$18) to 528 pounds (~$730) for the APD, depending on the distance, class, and aircraft flown. (That upper limit is rising to 541 pounds on April 1.)
But these taxes haven't necessarily deterred passengers from flying—many frequent flyers will simply avoid flying out of London to avoid paying up. (Though it should be noted that the APD is waived for passengers with layovers in London that are less than 24 hours.)
While we don't think the APD is going anywhere any time soon, we can only hope the coronavirus tax will disappear as air travel resumes to standard capacity.