Wonkery on aviation and the frequent flyer levy

I’m dashing out this post out now, mainly so I can come back to it later, and share this with others and build on it. It might suck. Sorry ’bout that.

Over the Christmas holidays I read a couple of reports from AFreeRide.org – one was about Electric Aviation, and here’s the TLDR thread on twitter:

The thread – it’s much faster to read than the report.

The other one was a policy proposal or something called the Frequent Flyer Levy, a policy proposal for doing something about the fact that flying

  • emits huge amounts of CO2
  • is subsidised massively compared to other forms of transport
  • pretty much feels like the final taboo when it comes to talking about personal actions and climate change

The general idea of the policy is as follows:

Everyone gets one tax free return flight each year.

Tax kicks in at a low rate from the second flight, then goes up a notch for each extra flight in that year.

The extra money is set aside to support greener alternatives to flying.

I like this, as the majority of flights come from a tiny proportion of travellers – something like 70% of flights are by 15% of the population, and more than half of people in the UK don’t fly each year anyway.

Just having a blanket tax on flying ends up hitting poorer people who make the occasional flight harder than people who are frequent flyers, so a progressive scale interested me, and I tried plugging in my last year’s of flights into it to get an idea of what impact the policy would have had on me.

Here’s the link to the spreadsheet on Google Docs, but here’s a summary of the flights this year.

FromToApprox CostLevyCost with LevyNotes
TGLLGW40040Flying to Monkigras
LGWTGL409%43.60Flying back
TGLFLR12024%148.80Flying to Florence
FLRTGL12046%175.20Flying Back
DPS40074%696Flying to Bali (1st time seeing family in Oz since 2009)
DPSSXF400109%836Flying Back

Why so many flights? Well, after losing a suitcase with loads of stuff on a really crappy train journey from London to Berlin in Nov ’17, I did a pretty childish thing and basically ragequit international train travel, breaking a decent run of travelling by train almost everywhere over the last few years.

Anyway, when you total up the cost of flying in the spreadsheet, the impact is that this levy would have increased the cost of flying for me to the tune of more than 800 euros. That’s definitely enough to have made me choose trains for the earlier journeys.

Now, in my case, I bought the flight for Bali the year before, so really, I guess I should have that in a separate year – doing this would mean the tax difference would have been much less – a little under a hundred EUR. That’s much less, and the train would still have been pricier, but not much pricier. For anything after those 4 flights, I’d have a much stronger incentive to not fly though, and I can see myself choosing the train, or simply not going as a result.

Try it out yourself.

I put this into Google Sheets, as I’m curious about how others who think about their flying too think this scheme seems fair, and if it would affect their behaviour.

Here’s a free, version you can copy and try it out yourself to see how this would affect your decisions.

Yeah, but would this ever become policy?

I honestly don’t know. In the UK though, it looks like the labour government is interested enough in the idea to be considering as policy, based this interview here with Clive Lewis, mentioning a tax escalator for frequent fliers. That’s the closest thing I’ve seen so far, but it’s food for thought.