In a campaign for Air Passenger Duty (APD) to be axed, Sir Richard Branson has decided to celebrate a new route from Virgin Atlantic to Cancun with tax-free flights. For ticket purchases made over a two-day period, he says he will pay the tax on fares to the Mexican resort town. This is to highlight how unfair the levy is.
On Saturday, the Virgin Atlantic boss spoke out against APD in a speech in Cancun after the carrier’s inaugural flight to the destination. He described the tax as a disgrace and said the British government will generate about £600 million from it during just July and August – which is the same as £10 million a day. In an Olympic year, it’s offensive that the Treasury will pocket this much every day from British holidaymakers and visitors. This suffocating levy has skyrocketed out of control, with the years of above-inflation rises hitting passengers, the economy and stunting the nation’s recovery from the recession, he added.
A family of four has to pay £325 in APD just to go to Cancun and back following an 8% hike to the tax in April. The increase also means that the same family would pay £52 in APD to travel to Europe; £260 to go to Egypt; £324 to visit South Africa or the Caribbean; and £368 to travel to Argentina or Australia. The tax is double for passengers sitting in first-class, business-class and premium-economy. Now, passengers who book Virgin Atlantic tickets from the UK to Cancun on July 14 and 15 for travel between August 28 and December 5 and January 1, 2013 to March 12 won’t have to pay APD.
A message is also being added to Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays e-tickets, encouraging customers to complain about the levy to the government. The message thanks the customer for choosing Virgin to fly with. It notifies the passenger that they have just paid the highest passenger tax in the world to the British government. The message then asks them to support the A Fair Tax on Flying campaign and take 15 seconds to send an email to their MP in protest of the far too high APD.
A Fair Tax on Flying launched its own website last month with the hopes of encouraging at least 100,000 Brits to tell their MPs of their opposition to APD. Visitors to the site can enter their name, postcode and email address; then a template email is automatically sent to their local MP expressing their disapproval of the unacceptable tax travellers flying from the UK have to pay.
Also in his speech on Saturday, Branson took the chance to criticise the reluctance of the government to consider a Heathrow Airport expansion. He said that the current policy threatens to make the UK a third world country. They are considering if they can make a couple extra flights to Cancun from Gatwick Airport, but they should be talking about a wholesale expansion to South America, Africa and Asia. This would give competition on existing routes and open new routes that aren’t served right now. The UK came to a halt about 15 years ago, he added, and millions of travellers from around the world are going to other European cities rather than Britain.
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