US superflashers will not get UK tax break

Image copyright CC BY-SA 3.0 Image caption Shapps says it will cost £10m in travel costs for UK’s 5 million foreign visitors each year

Travel by British tourists to the UK will no longer be subsidised by the taxpayer if travel carriers return to a no-flimsy box on its seat shell, a former Tory minister has said.

Sir Oliver Letwin told MPs the UK is “trying to get out of the hole in which we find ourselves” on the issue.

In July, he clashed with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling over the issue.

A BBC investigation earlier this year found journeys to and from the UK by international tourists are costing passengers too much.

A report published last month found round trip tickets from China to London were costing up to £450, compared with £100 for a coach.

One trip from Shanghai to London took 10 hours, if the passengers were seated in the outside seats of the Chinese coach.

Mr Letwin, who was appointed by Theresa May to do a review of how to keep the cost of travel to the UK as low as possible, added: “We do not need to make travel costs deductible from the entitlement to reside here (as the previous Labour government did) until at least 2022.

“We will have more choice on travel costs and better quality transport to help achieve that objective.”

His comments were challenged by fellow Tory MP Jamie Reed, a chair of the Commons Transport Committee.

He warned that with demand for holiday travel increasing, travellers would need more options – and that the travel route network would be need to be improved.

Image copyright GETTY Image caption Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and former minister Sir Oliver Letwin were at loggerheads on the issue

‘The driver and the bumper’

A recent report by the group Passenger Focus, for example, criticised budget airline EasyJet for imposing seat checks which used seat shavings, and called for more alternatives.

Sir Oliver questioned whether seats inspected by an “executive chair and a bumper” would be good enough for the types of passengers flying from China.

He said airlines should be thinking “a long, long way out from the focus groups” when it came to the question of whether to allow a line for the traveller to purchase a seat without help.

“I don’t think you should have a position of always having seats for the driver and the bumper.

“What we need to look at is how we provide choice on that service.

“We don’t need to extract the driver and the bumper as a driver and a bumper.”

The Cabinet Office said the review of travel by British visitors had “already identified a range of solutions to challenges which are difficult to solve”.

The 2017/18 budget includes £10m to help to implement the recommendations.

Figures from the International Passenger Survey published by Transport for London in June found that the number of flights per person on an international bus or coach, including holidays and business trips, was 14.5 times the number on a passenger flight in 2014-15.

The report said demand for short-haul travel in London was growing at twice the rate of the national economy.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption At Heathrow airport, fewer than half of the seats had forward armrests

But Heathrow Airport hit back, telling the BBC last month that the figures do not take into account the partial privatisation of the transport network and “the historic domination of the airline industry”.

The UK’s largest airport has a new US shuttle service, and has also recently increased capacity on shorter routes.

The airports and bus industry generally come under fire for their prices.

Of the 7.4 billion journeys made by UK passengers last year, a quarter of them were by bus, according to Transport for London (TfL).

Only one in three passengers were able to get a seat which faced the most direct sight, a figure that has remained constant over the past 20 years.

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