Time for a frequent flyer tax?

This post is from our new report into flight shaming.  You can read 68 pages of original content on climate change activism and the industry by following this link.  


Within the climate change movement you will find a spectrum of responses and opinions, when it comes to dealing with the aviation industry.

At one end of the scale, groups such as the Extinction Rebellion feel that air travel should only be restricted to the most necessary cases unless it reaches a zero carbon target within five years.  By comparison, airline giant IAG has set 2050 as the date to reach ‘flightpath net zero.’

A few environmentalists will endorse, with qualifications, what some airlines are trying to do. For example, easyJet got a cautious thumbs up from Jonathon Porritt in its recent announcement that it would carbon offset all flights.

In the middle however the most popular demand is one of a frequent flyer tax, or indeed for frequent flyer schemes to be banned altogether.  To activists, they incentivise environmentally irresponsible behaviour to the point where some frequent flyers take mileage flights purely to preserve their status.

One of the most interesting projects which caught our eye, was the UK campaign ‘A free ride.’  What is noteworthy about this programme is that rather than take the line of all air travel being bad, it actually recognises that air travel has been a force for good:

“We really treasure the very real benefits that the technological miracle of human flight brings to our lives. So we need to find a way to maximise those benefits while minimising the harm caused.”

The campaign proposes offering one tax free flight a year, which might actually help more people on lower incomes to fly, with a progressively higher tax kicking in for every flight made after that.

That idea has since been adopted by the third party in British politics, the Liberal Democrats, who announced it as part of their 2019 General Election manifesto.

The fact that second tier parties are starting to embrace these ideas are a sign that they are becoming more mainstream, and it’s not unlikely that parties of Government (at least in Europe) will commit to these ideas in the coming years.

A note on the industry response 

When CNBC contacted UK airline industry groups about frequent flyer tax proposals, they (according to CNBC) ‘slammed’ the ideas.

‘This is a drop in the ocean as to what can be done by the Government’ was one quoted response, while another talked about ‘economic and reputational harm.’

We think a better reaction here would be to engage with the principle behind the idea – everyone needs to play their part, be it individuals, the Govt or the industry.  And then show how airlines are doing that. 

Want more content on this topic?  Take a look at our special report. 

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