Tackling both climate change and hardship resulting from the extremes in airfares

The Covid-19 pandemic has delivered benefits to climate change through a reduction in greenhouse gases from reduced air travel. At the other extreme, for those taking trips, many for compassionate and compelling reasons, returning home has created distress through exorbitantly priced flights. During the pandemic inflated fares have been experienced, up to 20 times the original cost. Passengers have had their seats on flights cancelled and refunded with alternatives offered at prices up to £10,500 for a one-way long-haul fare.

A policy of imposing price controls on airline tickets could both address this opportunity to combat climate change and tackle inflated fares, at times of adversity and along with other challenging situations.

This policy proposal emerged pre-Covid but has become more urgent in the light of the impact of the pandemic.

What are the other challenges to be addressed?

Airlines have been cross subsidising routes, causing hardship to those on the overpriced routes and promoting air travel on the below cost routes when UK tourism would otherwise flourish. Offering air travel below cost is inconsistent with the need to address climate change.

As an example, in December 2019 one airline was promoting £60 return flights to Europe (e.g. to Spain) in October 2020 half-term whilst charging £560 return (excluding luggage) to mainland Greece, where there appeared to be a price cartel.

Conversely, for passengers needing to book flights last minute due to their own medical emergencies or to travel to help others in crisis, flights can be unaffordable such as up to 10 times the base cost. This often places undue hardship on families who are already facing distressing situations.

How can we fix the problems and grasp the opportunity to address climate change through a mutually beneficial pricing policy for airlines?

Imposing a minimum and maximum pricing policy on airlines operating in the UK could address the issues. A minimum one-way, short-haul airfare of for example £50, could be imposed, with a maximum price set at 3 to 5 times the minimum price offered for that flight. The same rationale to be applied to longer haul flights.

The benefits delivered should include:

– Reduction in unnecessary air travel, currently driven by below-cost cross-subsidised fares

– Stimulation to the UK domestic travel industry

– A reduction in greenhouse gases emitted by aircraft

– Increase in much needed income for airlines on competitive routes

– A reduction in airfares for urgent last-minute travel, often at times of hardship. This to be balanced by an increase in minimum fares.

– No need for some routes to unfairly subsidise other ones nor for pricing cartels.

The pricing policy could be applied by the UK Government on flights leaving the UK or sold in the UK. The aim would be for the UK to lead the way for this to become an international standard by gaining the support of the EU, G7 and the countries signed up to the Paris Climate Change Agreement.




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