Nigel Herbert traces why Sydney Airport is so expensive to get to and shop at.

Did you know that some hotel chains are now employing “directors of first impressions”. And it’s easy to write off a name like that as marketing gone mad. But it got me thinking.

Sydney Airport needs a “director of first impressions”.

After all, Sydney airport is by far Australia’s largest airport and accounts for over 35 Million passengers and 280,000 aircraft movements each year. And for the vast majority of overseas visitors, Sydney airport is their first impression of Australia. And I think we need to audit these first impressions.

Take the airport train. In 1999 Sydney got it’s first rail line to Sydney Airport. It replaced a fleet of buses that traversed the city and deposited people at the airport for a small fee. I seem to recall this is being either free or a couple of dollars. And this was replaced by a train service. A privatised train service that involved a special fee for these special stations. And the charge is $15.90 for a trip to the city from the domestic airport and $16.70 from the international terminal. The reason for the cost is a $12.50 “gate pass fee” charged by the NSW state government. Based on trips of similar length, a train ticket SHOULD cost around $4. But it doesn’t. It costs $15.90.

And I am not just picking on the rail line here. Sydney Airport has been gouging consumers like a giant blood sucking octopus since it’s privatisation. For instance, Taxi’s now pay a “drop off fee” of $3 per taxi. Calculate the number of taxi drop offs at Sydney airport and you are talking about a lot of money. And it’s just not a good look to get slugged an extra $3 when you arrive at the airport. And at $56 for three hours, parking at Sydney Airport is the most expensive of any airport in Australia. In fact, Sydney Airport has even had the ACCC sniffing around its monopolistic processes.

Or the retailing at the airport. We don’t expect things to be “cheap” at the airport, but Sydney airport is home to the $4 -$7 coffee. And I don’t blame the vendors. It’s the gouging landlord who is charging them big rents. (last six months Sydney Airport Corporation took $116M in rental income.). No wonder it had grand plans to launch a shopping centre on the airport site a few years ago.

And don’t even get me started on these “experiential” vendors trying to get me to taste wines or apply for a credit card. I am sure they pay Sydney Airport Corporation a nice fee to be there, but how does this in any way make it better for me as a customer?

Meanwhile, Sydney Airport has received revenues in excess of $8,000,000,000 since it was privatised. But, reportedly, according the Sydney Morning Herald online, it has yet to pay any tax.

And this in many ways is the root of the problem. Everyone has plausible deniability (Sydney Airport Corporation – “Who us? We are doing what is in the best interest of our shareholders“) and (Sydney Airport Link – “Who us? It’s the state governments fault for a $12.50 access fee”). And the point is they are both right. They both have plausible deniability and the ability to shift the buck to someone else. The “evil government”, “concerned shareholders”, “banking covenants” or whomever else they choose to blame. The only guarantee is that it will never be their fault.

But at the end of the days they run monopolies. And monopolies don’t care about customers. They care about growing profits. After all, it’s not like the customers can go anywhere else.

Which is why we need a “director of first impressions”. Someone who can sort this shit out.