In Search of British Airway’s Logic

Now I know that rule number 1 in the travel business states that “there is no correlation between airfares and logic”, but BA in their inimitable fashion have managed to confuse even this truism.

Let me explain.

In their enthusiasm to fool passengers into believing that they might actually fly somewhere for $99, airlines have taken to extracting costs from the fare and adding “surcharges” to make up the difference; these, we are told, are necessary as they are “temporary” and directly linked to the additional costs in transporting a passenger in these difficult times. Fine.

However, when one cancels a non-refundable ticket, something odd happens. The “fare” which is not returned to one is also now linked to the “fuel surcharge” part of the tax cost, which is also withheld from refund. Very odd.

The surcharge for hauling one’s body into the air is most assuredly not part of the fare when advertised, but a surcharge; yet when refunds are made, it migrates into the fare.

Let us look quickly at the concept of a “surcharge”. These are (or should be) levies made due to unexpected and unabsorbable rises in costs. The current enthusiasm for fuel surcharges were implemented a couple of years ago when the price of oil reached $140/ barrel, and the airlines faced extreme uncertainty. They could not have forecasted this degree of volatility in their fare structure and believed the necessity for the “surcharge” would be temporary.

No regulatory body, however, asked them what benchmark they used; or at what point they would be removed. Now, a few years later, one would think that the carriers’ fuel purchasers would have this figured out, removed the volatility from the market and adjusted their “fares” to accommodate a contracted and known price for fuel.

There is no reason to have a fuel surcharge in a market that is both balanced and manageable through the use of future-pricing contracts.

British Airways, by the way, are the only major carrier to hold onto this ill-appropriated cash. Air Canada, Lufthansa to name only a couple do not. They simply keep the “fare”, fair enough in the case of deeply discounted seat sales, but return the rest of the unused incidentals.

Why, British Airways, do you not refund this levy? Obviously you don’t need the fuel surcharge if you don’t actually have to lift me off the ground, so why keep it? Or is the answer self-evident to the grasping and unapproachable airline that you have sadly become?