An increase in flight taxes that will add £100 to the cost of many family holidays starts from Monday. The news will be greeted with horror by many families who already struggle to pay inflated air fares during school holidays.
"It's hitting at business and it's hitting at people who want to do business in the UK," BA's Chief Executive, Willie Walsh told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "I believe, and I think there's plenty of evidence now to support it, that this is damaging to the UK."
Thomas Cook said the move was counterproductive, while Virgin Atlantic said family holidays would be "unaffordable for many".Air Passenger Duty is paid by all travellers on leaving Britain, with the world split into four bands.
The division includes some anomalies, according to the Daily Telegraph. For example, all of America is in Band B, whose rate will increase from £45 per person to £60 for those flying economy, or rise from £90 to £120 for those in any other class, including premium economy.
However, the Caribbean is in Band C along with most of south-east Asia and South America. This is despite it being closer to Britain than the west coast of America.
In Band C, duty will go up from £50 to £75 per person. This means a family of four flying to the Caribbean will have to pay £300 in duty compared with the current rate of £200, or £160 last year.
Band D duty will rise from £55 to £85. A retired couple visiting grandchildren in Australia, for example, and flying in premium economy class would, from Monday, pay £340, up from £220.
Julie Southern, Virgin Atlantic's chief commercial officer, said: "Holidays are an essential part of our lives and are valued even more in these difficult economic times. With passengers now being asked to pay up to 10 times more tax since the air duty's introduction, the annual family holiday will become unaffordable for many.
"Our message to the Government is that this absolutely has to be the last time that the travelling public faces rises in air duty."
Manny Fontenla-Novoa, Thomas Cook Group's chief executive, said the company was disappointed that the Government had continued with its plans to increase the duty.
"There is no evidence of this tax having any environmental benefit," he said. "We will continue to lobby on behalf of our holidaymakers."
Nearly half of all passengers are unaware of the increase in duty, according to a poll conducted by Virgin Atlantic.
Air duty is automatically added to the price when a ticket is booked.
The tax was introduced in 1994 at the rate of £10 on long-haul flights. It was radically restructured and increased in 2007 by the previous government, which said it was a necessary "green measure".
It raised £2.3 billion a year for the Treasury last year but is expected to generate £3.8 billion by 2015.
Airlines say that the duty gives them little incentive to be greener or to invest in new technology because their passengers will be penalised just as heavily as those who opt to fly on carriers that operate old 747s.