Virgin slams soaring British air tax hike

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The Virgin Atlantic airline blasted the rise in Britain's airport departure tax being introduced Monday, warning that many families would be priced out of a holiday.

Virgin Atlantic said Friday that the Air Passenger Duty (APD) hikes would make holidays "unaffordable for many", while other airlines are also fuming and tourist destinations fear a plunge in business.

The tax, imposed at the point of purchase, is going up by 55 percent for the longest flights.

"Holidays are an essential part of our lives and are valued even more in these difficult economic times," said Julie Southern, Virgin Atlantic's chief commercial officer.

"With passengers now being asked to pay up to 10 times more tax since APD's introduction, the annual family holiday will become unaffordable for many.

"This absolutely has to be the last time that the travelling public faces APD rises."

British Airways is also furious. Chief executive Willie Walsh has called the tax "a disgrace."

The APD has four levels: Band A for flights up to 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometres); Band B for up to 4,000 miles (6,450 kilometres); Band C for up to 6,000 miles (9,650 kilometres), and Band D for flights beyond that.

In economy class, Band A passengers face a nine percent rise from 11 pounds to 12 pounds (19 dollars, 13.75 euros); Band B a 33 percent hike from 45 pounds to 60 pounds.

Band C passengers face a 50 percent rise from 50 pounds to 75 pounds, while Band D customers face a 55 percent rise from 55 pounds to 85 pounds.

Premium class passengers pay double those amounts, meaning the APD on first class flights to Australia will be 170 pounds.

Gareth Williams, chief executive of flight comparison site, suggested the hikes could lead long-haul travellers to fly from airports elsewhere in Europe.

"In a recent survey we found that more than three-quarters of our users would be willing to fly indirectly to save money," he said.

"It could have serious repercussions for the long-haul UK aviation industry."

The government is considering replacing APD with a per-plane tax.

© 2010 AFP

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