The city of London has always been amongst the most popular tourism destinations in Europe and visitor rates have been growing steadily as travelers plan their vacations for the year ahead. 2014 saw record numbers of passengers at Britain's two busiest airports, with an astonishing influx of holiday travelers in December that further bolstered the nation's thriving tourism industry. Transportation hubs in Europe have endured a slew of unusual weather this winter but the fog, snow, and sporadic temperatures didn't seem to put a damper on airline passenger rates: an unprecedented 73.4 million people landed at London Heathrow Airport last year and Gatwick Airport had an almost 8% increase in passengers over 2013. The weather has certainly had negative effects on travel in the United Kingdom, with 70mph winds cancelling several flights at Dublin Airport last week, but an astonishing recent occurrence has proven that windy conditions aren't always a burden in the world of airborne transit.
Riding Winds of Fortune at the Speed of Sound
Thanks to a blustery natural phenomenon passengers on a British Airways airliner bound for London from New York enjoyed an uncommonly quick international flight last week. A transatlantic jet stream provided 200mph tailwinds that allowed the Boeing 777 to reach ground speeds of almost 750mph, well beyond the plane's average cruising speed of 560mph. Since the sound speed barrier is broken after surpassing 761mph the flight was not officially supersonic but remarkable atmospheric conditions still propelled passengers astonishingly quickly over the immense breadth of the Atlantic Ocean. The benevolent boost in velocity brought the airliner from JFK to Heathrow in record time for the class and type of aircraft, landing more than an hour earlier than scheduled.
Although the recent British Airways flight traveled far faster than it would under normal conditions, pilots and engineers adamantly ensured that it was still safely operating within its design limits. A plane's rate of travel can vary greatly depending on the weather and safe ground speeds, or the velocity relative to the earth, are determined largely by wind speeds, or a plane's velocity relative to the air around it. Long-distance flights along the same route and distance are always shorter when heading eastward due to the ever-present jet stream of moving air circling the globe. Pilots typically utilize favorable tailwinds to expedite international travel and, in the case of this recent British Airways flight, an unusually strong jet stream allowed the Boeing 777 to ride the winds at remarkably high ground speeds without risking the aircraft's structural integrity. Very little turbulence was reported on route and none of the passengers on this particular flight voiced any concern after enjoying an arrival well ahead of schedule.
The Skies Over England May be Friendly but There's Tax Turbulence Afoot
While tumultuous weather in the air has been prevalent in Europe this winter, the future of tourism taxes on the ground in London has been similarly uncertain. A recent bid from the London borough of Camden council is calling for the imposition of a new £1 per night "bed tax" on all hotels in central London, similar to other policies and travel taxes imposed by countries throughout Europe. According to the council, the additional funds would prospectively go towards maintenance and redevelopment projects like street cleaning but not all parties are in agreement. The deputy CEO of the British Hospitality Association, Martin Couchman, is quoted as saying: "Any additional tax on top of the existing 20% VAT, which is almost the highest in Europe, would directly discourage international tourists from visiting London."
So far the Camden council has not yet enlisted the support of the other boroughs in London and actually passing the new tax levy will be a considerable undertaking. British law does not currently allow individual boroughs and local governments to institute tourism taxes and Camden's first step in enacting the new levy will be to assert their autonomy in the matter, which will require a unified effort from other councils in the capital. Despite the daunting task at hand, members of Camden's council have remained adamant in supporting the £1 bed tax, citing severe recent cuts in government funding that will leave London cabinet members with little remaining resources for maintaining and improving the public realm. In the meantime, Camden plans on possibly enacting a late-night opening levy on nightlife destinations like bars and pubs to help fill the gaps left by funding cuts.