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Thursday, April 1, 1999 Published at 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK

Business: The Company File

Air fare row takes off

Airlines are now displaying airport service charges on their tickets

Travel agents and airlines are to go to court to settle a row over air fares.

The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) is taking action against three airlines: British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Lufthansa.

It claims they are misleading customers.

[ image: Abta's Keith Betton: A tax by any other name]
Abta's Keith Betton: A tax by any other name
The row centres on something called the passenger service charge.

It is a charge traditionally levied by airports to cover the cost of maintenance and services, and is included in the air fare.

But now some airlines are displaying the charge separately on tickets.

As well as showing the standard fare and the airport departure tax imposed by the government, the ticket will now show the passenger service charge.

Critics say airlines are adding the cost of the charge to fares, forcing passengers to pay it twice.

Airlines deny claims

In a statement, British Airways said: "We believe it is important that the price paid by a consumer is as transparent as possible so that customers are aware what additional charges are being imposed on them, on top of the basic airline fare.

"It is never our intention to mislead consumers. Our practice for displaying the passenger service charges follows standard international airline industry procedures."

Virgin Atlantic said what it was doing was in line with other European airlines, while Lufthansa declined to comment.

Abta spokesman Keith Betton said: "We are taking this action because we believe these airlines and indeed there are others, who we believe are misleading their customers by saying that this extra amount is tax.

"It is a price rise which they are trying to hide as tax.

"We would like them to be honest about it, and we are not alone. The Office of Fair Trading has backed us, so I think we will see that the airlines have to do a U-turn."

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