I just spotted a tweet from a political journalist moaning that he had bought a ticket for £520 to Los Angeles and an astonishing £367 of this was tax. I replied rather quickly to point out that only £65 of this was UK tax and the rest was fuel surcharges (by far the bulk of the sum), security costs, airport charges and other US charges. He should have been happy that, when rail fares are becoming so expensive, it is possible to buy a return ticket to Los Angeles for just over £500 but I suspect he had been misled by all the complaints about increased APD into believing he was paying far more tax than is the case.
If you book a hotel that costs £100 a night (ex vat) for five nights, you will pay £100 in tax. Is it so unreasonable that an air ticket costing a similar sum attracts a tax of £65?
Yes, I know there are plenty of arguments that say aviation is being unfairly penalised compared to other modes of transport. There is no tax on rail tickets and the network is subsidised but aviation actually gets an awful lot of tax breaks of its own (fuel being the most obvious). APD is a fairly blunt instrument because it taxes in bands rather than on the actual value of the ticket so there are plenty of cases where the percentage is disproportionate.
UK airlines and other travel groups organised a concerted PR campaign against the latest APD rises. They quoted shock figures so that newspapers could show just how much an “ordinary, hard-working family” would have to pay in APD for their summer trip to the Costas.
Yet almost every other non-essential item we buy is taxed and, in most cases, it is by more than airline tickets.
When the “anti-APD” campaign started there were a few wise figures in the travel trade urging caution. They pointed out that is was foolish to highlight the rises because most people only look at the total cost of a flight or holiday, just as they look at the total cost of a new mobile phone or laptop. Publicising large increases might simply put people off booking altogether they argued. Also, any attempt to draw aviation into a wider debate about “fair taxes” could end up proving that flights are, if anything, under-taxed!