We’re seeing climate change being taken more seriously than ever before, and that’s especially apparent in the airline industry. We have airlines encouraging passengers to take the train rather than fly, airlines carbon offsetting their domestic flights, and more.
While most people agree we should take steps to reduce carbon emissions, there’s huge variance in terms of how extreme people want to be — some people want to play their small part, while others view this as an emergency and want extreme measures to be taken overnight.
Anyway, there’s now an interesting proposal that not only impacts airlines, but more specifically impacts frequent flyer programs.
Should Frequent Flyer Programs Be Banned?
A new Imperial College London report commissioned by the Committee of Climate Change has some comprehensive proposals to prevent further climate change.
Not surprisingly, air travel is a big topic in this, including a proposal for a frequent flyer levy on the 15% of the UK population that takes 70% of flights.
Perhaps the most radical suggestion is eliminating frequent flyer programs. The report argues that frequent flyer programs cause people to take more flights than they need to, including people taking extra flights to “maintain their privileged-traveller status.”
Essentially they are suggesting that frequent flyer programs are rewarding environmentally damaging behavior.
As someone who loves frequent flyer programs, of course my first reaction is to be defensive.
The truth is, though, I can’t disagree with the assertion that frequent flyer programs probably are bad for the environment on some level. So is eating meat. And any flying. And any driving. And…
Some people definitely do fly more because of the existence of frequent flyer programs, though I’d argue that this represents a tiny percentage of the overall flights that are taken.
Frequent flyer programs have some positive impacts as well:
- A majority of miles are issued through non-flying means, and you have lots of people earning frequent flyer miles and not actually redeeming them for flying; so there are lots of situations under which people engage with frequent flyer programs without flying
- While some people view frequent flyer programs as being elitist, the reality is that it makes travel affordable for many people
Regarding that second point, many would argue that making travel more affordable even for the occasional traveler isn’t a good thing.
Are Cheap Tickets Irresponsible?
The reality is that flying is more affordable than ever before. In many ways that’s a great thing, since seeing the world has never been easier, and I think that’s great. Not just because it’s fun, but because getting exposure to new cultures is a valuable learning experience.
But if we’re going to take a radical approach to climate change, was Lufthansa’s CEO actually onto something when he said it is irresponsible for airlines to sell $11 tickets? Of course rather conveniently, the airlines selling those tickets are making his airline lose business.
If we’re going to approach the current situation as a climate emergency, is it time to just ban all non-emergency travel? Should global travel be a thing of the past?
I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer here, and I also think the truth can be somewhere in the middle. But big picture I think frequent flyer programs are an incredibly minor thing to attack in the climate change debate…
What do you guys think?
(Tip of the hat to Chris)