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Plane crazy world of UK travellers' sky-high air fares.

I T'S sky-way robbery. Airlines are charging British travellers massive air fares to far-flung destinations like the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

But the Sunday Mercury has discovered that the trade in expensive return tickets is one-way traffic.

Foreigners making the same long-haul journeys in the opposite direction with the same airline are getting bargain deals.

Some are up to pounds 640 cheaper.

Posing as would-be travellers, we checked out prices with six leading airlines for return flights from Birmingham International and Heathrow Airports.

Then we rang their offices in those countries with the same travel schedule to find out how much a return to Britain would cost.

In all but two cases, the tickets for sale abroad were cheaper.

We checked the prices of 10 economy-class return tickets from Britain to New York, Chicago, Vancouver, Sydney and Auckland.

Our reporter contacted British Airways, Continental, American Airlines, Air Canada, Qantas and Air New Zealand.

He said he wanted to depart on Saturday, September 12, and return three weeks later on Saturday, October 3.

The most expensive ticket was a British Airways return from Heathrow to Sydney at pounds 1,877, including airport tax.

But a BA return to Heathrow from Sydney on the same dates in the same World Traveller class cost Australian $3,322 including tax, the equivalent of just pounds 1,232.

Passengers buying returns to Vancouver from Heathrow also fared badly with Air Canada. That ticket came to pounds 806 including tax.

But an economy return to Heathrow bought in Vancouver cost Canadian $1465, or pounds 594.

Travelling from Birmingham Airport made little difference to the price.

A Continental economy return ticket to Chicago was pounds 643, including tax.

In the States, Continental was selling return tickets to Brum from Chicago for $796, or pounds 429.

And there's no way UK passengers can sidestep the inflated return prices.

All six airlines say outward and return tickets must be used in the correct order.

That stops travellers from snapping up cheaper tickets by telephoning airline offices abroad and using what should be their return ticket on their outward leg.

Brian Donnelly, travel service director for the International Airline Passengers' Association, said prices in Britain were so high that many travellers were buying single tickets to long-haul destinations and then buying another single back to the UK.

He said: "There's no doubt some prices are high at the moment but there's no reason to think that will always be the case.

"The strong pound is one of the main reasons, but airline fares are also subject to seasonal changes.

For example, passengers departing from Sydney to Heathrow would be leaving Australia in what's currently their winter. That makes a big difference."

Tim Goodyear, for airline trade body the International Air Transport Association, says British travellers ARE receiving fair deals.

He said: "It's difficult to compare one market with another because there are so many different factors at work in each one.

"In the US, for example, American operators have lower costs than airlines like British Airways. That's because they cater for far more passengers in their domestic markets than BA does.

"British travellers are being treated fairly. They are not being exploited, but they are suffering because of the lack of a massive domestic airline trade."

What do you think? Are British airline passengers being ripped off? Or is it only fair because of the various factors affecting prices? Write to Talkabout, Sunday Mercury, 28 Colmore Circus, Birmingham B4 6AZ.
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 30, 1998
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