Half the battle

Getting a friend to correct an awful mistake is often a two-part process that begins when the friend admits there's a problem. That's half the battle, and sometimes it's the easier half.

Getting the friend to choose the right solution can be a trickier process. The travel industry may be in just such a relationship with the U.K. this week, following the exchequer's decision to restructure its horrendous departure tax, the Air Passenger Duty.

The good news is that Britain has finally admitted that this tax is a problem. The bad news is that the tax won't go away. Still, for millions of airline passengers it will come down sharply in 2015, when the U.K. will simplify the mileage-based tax from four levels to two (under 2,000 miles/over 2,000 miles).

This means that key emerging markets such as China, India and Brazil will see a tax reduction. Tourism interests in the Caribbean are especially pleased that, a year from now, all Caribbean destinations will be in the same mileage band as the U.S.

Because the bands are based on the crazy criterion of the distance between London and the destination country's capital, U.K. flights to the Caribbean have been incurring a higher tax than flights to Hawaii.

We've been calling this a crazy idea since its inception, as have tourism interests from the Caribbean and elsewhere, but the British have stoically endured these epithets until last week, when Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne told Parliament he intended to "end the crazy system" on April 1, 2015. (If it's so crazy, as the exchequer now admits, why keep it another year?)

The effect of this delay on the Caribbean means that for U.K.-Caribbean passengers, the tax on an economy-class ticket will go from 83 to 85 pounds ($141) next week, before falling back to 71 pounds ($118) in another 12 months. These numbers are still way too high for a departure tax, but we didn't expect Great Britain to get it right on the first try.

A great Briton, Winston Churchill, is said to have quipped that "the United States invariably does the right thing, after having exhausted every other alternative." Back at you, Sir.
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