The price of privatising airports in the UK

If you are flying off on holiday the airport is now, in all probability, the worst part of the experience (except the flight!).  Profit is the motivation of the airport management, rather than security. Misery is the result.

1. More than half UK international airports lack free drinking water. Water fountains have been removed, forcing travellers to buy expensive bottled water instead. As people have wised up to the rules and brought empty plastic bottles through security, the airports started to remove or hide their water fountains.  Where water fountains still exist the water barely dribbles out, raising the suspicion that the water pressure has been set deliberately low.

2. So- called  ‘Dutyree’ is a rip- off

A survey this week of retailers in Heathrow by price comparison site PriceSpy found that a Samsung S7 phone in the Samsung store was £559; on Amazon it was £452. A Fitbit selling for £134.99 at Dixons, was £128 in Debenhams. A £319 Sony Camera at its Heathrow shop was £309 at Argos. This should come as no surprise, given the extraordinary rents retailers must pay to be in the airports.

3. The insanely bad currency rates

One airport, Cardiff, is offering just 88 cents for every $1 of a holidaymaker’s cash. Given that the market rate is around €1.11 to £1, it means the exchange bureau is pocketing around a 20% profit. Even the big names, such as Moneycorp and Travelex, will take a 10-12% cut.

4. The VAT trick
When you are forced to show your boarding pass at the till – with the implication that it is a legal requirement – the truth is that it is merely so that the shop can pocket the VAT on purchases made by customers flying to non-EU destinations. Boots and WH Smith now promise to hand the VAT back on purchases over £5-£6, but other retailers carry on regardless.

5. Charging for wifi
Manchester airport actually crows about the fact that it has extended its free wifi from 30 minutes to one hour, before then stinging you for £5 an hour. In Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Dublin, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Munich, Paris, Rome (the list goes on and on), airports give free unlimited access. Not in Britain.

6. Inadequate seating
It is evidently a far more profitable use of the precious floor space for a maze of over-priced shops than giving passengers sufficient seating.

7. The drop-off/pick-up charge
At one airport a brief pause while picking someone up costs £3 for 10 minutes, then £1 a minute thereafter.  All this for foreign owned companies operating airports.  Nothing is now owned by the British taxpayer.  (adapted from an article in The Guardian, 5 August 2017 by Patrick Collinson).

Why do we have to endure all this?  Because the government, which used to run it all, decided to privatise it.  Who benefits?  Well, it is not the travelling citizen.  Could it be associated with any possible corrupt goings-on in the murky world of political funding, or simply neoliberalism run riot?  Is there another government in another country quite so ideological and quite so stupid?  Epicurus, who advocated moderation, would have concluded that we have gone crazy.