Claire Black: Consumers taken for ride with boarding card scandal

The boarding card scandal, revealed to be for VAT and not security reasons, has been a talker this week. Picture: Robert Perry
The boarding card scandal, revealed to be for VAT and not security reasons, has been a talker this week. Picture: Robert Perry
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I CAN’T tell you how many times I have handed over my boarding pass in WH Smiths or Boots at the airport.

Bag of chocolate raisins, copy of Vanity Fair (or Prospect if I’m feeling aspirational), packet of Extra, boarding pass. Handed over. The lot. I once even managed to leave mine nestled in among the Picnics and Double Deckers as I ran to my departure gate – after the initial wave of panic faded I knew where it would be because of course I’d had it out and ready for the cashier. I thought I was being helpful.

So how do I feel now to discover that the reason I have been asked for that bit of cardboard with the swipeable portion isn’t for security reasons – what a bonehead, but I reckon that’s what I thought – it’s so that the shop can claim back VAT if I’m travelling outside of the EU? A tasty little 20 per cent. A refund which they don’t, of course, pass on to their customers. In Boots, a bottle of Nivea Sun Spray bags them an HMRC-funded payback of £1.33 but it will still cost you or me the same price that we’d have paid on Princes Street.

Everyone is outraged. Even the shops who’ve been doing this are, apparently, outraged, as though they didn’t know it was happening. Boots, one of the worst offenders, has said that it is undertaking a review but, while that’s happening, its staff won’t ask customers for their boarding passes. I feel utterly underwhelmed by the gesture even while I hope that all the rest – Dixons Travel, WH Smith – will do the same. But it’s pretty moot because we all know now and so, I hope, we will all refuse to hand it over even if we are asked.

How did it get like this? Has it always been like this? It’s not like I ride a penny farthing and read Dickens by the light of my kerosene lamp gibbering on about the good old days. Dickens was pretty good on avarice and rapaciousness so I know it’s not new that people who want to make money don’t always play by the rules or give a flying fig for the people whose pockets they’re dipping. But I just don’t remember the task of being a consumer being as fraught as it is now.

Apart from in shops (which are fleecing us in different ways it transpires) we now know that basically you must never accept the first price you’re given. Doesn’t matter if it’s for a hire car or a mobile phone, or sometimes even a train ticket. You always say no and they always reduce it. You never stay with any company (energy companies, car and home insurance companies, internet service providers, mobile phone companies) for more than two years because loyal customers lose out since the best deals are only given to new customers.

This is what people call market forces. And maybe that’s just capitalism. People will tell you it means that we can all get a better deal. But what it means is that we all have to spend inordinate amounts of time looking for better deals and worrying about not getting them and assuming that we’re always being taken for a ride. And usually we are. I’m not for it.

Sledging has no place in sport

YOU know this sledging thing – Australian tennis player, Nick Kyrgios being the latest exemplar – can I just say a loud, clear, unequivocal “No”? During the first set of his match against Stan Wawrinka in Montreal last week, Kyrgios told the Swiss that another tennis player had “banged” his girlfriend. Wawrinka then lost the second set and retired in the third. And that, I guess, is “successful” sledging. You say something appalling to your opponent, knock them off their stride and therefore win. Unless you’re Italian footballer Marco Materazzi and you get Zinedine Zidane’s forehead in the chest. I find it utterly appalling. Sledging that is. (I’m not a fan of head-butting either, but in the case of Materazzi, I find it hard to come up with a more deserved if not appropriate response.) But sledging, totally indefensible. Completely unsporting. The reason I say this is because although there has been condemnation of Kyrgios for the base, crassness of his particular slur (he finished his statement with the risible “sorry to tell you that, mate”), it has also given rise to some support for sledging as long as it’s “done well”. You know, the great comeback, the sportsman (do women do this?) who is a big enough man to take it on the chin, unperturbed. I’m not buying that. Sledging can’t ever be done well. It is macho, posturing, nonsense that has no place in sport.

Let’s hear it for Björk

L AST week Björk posted a message on her Facebook page saying she was cancelling three gigs of her tour and the explanation (although she didn’t say it in quite these words) was that it’s just too painful to sing Vulnicura.

The album is about the end of her 13-year relationship with Matthew Barney and singing it is “intense”, more so than she’d realised.

I know if I had a ticket for one of the cancelled gigs I’d probably feel a bit disappointed but I hope I’d also feel a sense of admiration.

I keep thinking of Amy Winehouse. She told people over and over how hard it was to sing some of her songs, how upsetting and sad, and they filled up her glass and pushed her on stage. I like the thought it can be done differently.