Just Mobility

Frequent flier* tax

What's the problem?

Bill Gates and Paris Hilton, being frequent fliers, generate 10.000 times more CO2-emissions with flight traffic than the average person. At the same time 1% of Great Britain's population is responsible for almost 20% of the international flights; 10% of frequent fliers* utilize more than half of all international flights. Climate (in)justice can nowhere be seen clearer than in terms of flight traffic: A few single people are responsible for the damage on the broad majority. In Germany, there are not enough numbers - but following a study (2013), in Germany people from the highest-income-group fly an average of  6,6 times a year, whereas the lowest-income-group only flies 0,6 times - which already is a lot compared with the global average. Around  90 %of the global population hasn't been inside a plane yet.

What's the measure?

Why should a buisnesswoman who is taking her sixth flight this year to get to her Tuscanian mansion, pay the same tax amount than a person* taking a flight every two years to visit his*her family on another continent? A frequent flier* tax would make every flight or route of a certain period of time more expansive step-by-step, in order to give an incentive to fly less.

In Great Britain, they have been discussing a Frequent Flyer Levy, which proposes one tax-free flight per year, for years. In 2019, a similar model was also proposed through a report written for the UK's Committee on Climate Change: An Air Miles Levy which will make the distance flown increasingly expensive over 3-4 years.

How can this be implemented?

The model proposed here includes a duty-free first flight every three to four years. A second flight contains a levy of about 150€ and for each further flight, the levy is doubled. This takes into account the differences between economy, business, and first-class, as first-class seats cause up to seven times the emissions of an economy ticket (at least as long as this class system is still allowed).

There are several challenges in introducing a levy. The levy could in principle be introduced in any country, ideally as a globally uniform tax. However, as there is not yet a strong international tax institution that could impose such a tax, the tax could initially be introduced in individual countries or regions, for example at the EU level. In this case, the tax would be set by the EU and levied by the countries. The tax would apply to both national and international flights.

In order to track individual passenger characteristics, new systems for calculating the levy could be necessary. This could trigger a critical debate on data protection, as passenger data would have to be stored. One possible solution would be an alias-based system that could use identity codes to ensure comprehensive data security. It would have to be ensured that airlines exchange this data only for delivery purposes. This could be verified by the existing aviation authorities.

A levy could be more complex to administer than the current or alternative arrangements for air transport taxation. The Scottish Executive used this excuse to reject a VFA as an alternative to Air Passenger Duty. It is therefore essential that the levy is kept as simple as possible.

How quickly can this be implemented?

Preparatory measures must be started immediately: Flight behavior and feasibility studies are urgently required. Subsequently, interregional agreements must be made. In general, a frequent flier levy could be feasible within the next 1-2 years.

How long does it take the measure to have an effect?

It is very likely that the measure will have the immediate effect of making people think twice before using their duty-free flight for a weekend shopping trip to Barcelona or saving it for a possibly more urgent matter. The message is very clear that if the climate crisis is to be stopped, every person (who flies a lot) will be entitled to far fewer flights than before.

References to other measures

Taxes on kerosene and tickets are to put an end to the unjust tax liberation of the airline industry. This does not rule out an additional frequent flier tax but can have a complementary effect. Of course, a reduction in air traffic also requires the expansion of sustainable, climate-friendly means of transport.

Problems of social, global and intergenerational justice

Since studies show that frequent fliers belong to the highest-income class, while the worldwide majority of people cannot afford a flight in their lifetime (or are unable to take one due to repressive visa regulations), this measure is jus - it is above all a burden on the rich people responsible for the climate crisis. At the same time, it continues to allow people with a migration background to take a tax-free flight every few years to visit their family on another continent. Companies, too, would probably have to rethink their economic approach, which is based on the global commuting of employees. Finally, the measure would also be just if it were initially introduced only in Germany or Europe, taking into account Europe's historical climate debt.

Continuative literature, sources

  1. stay grounded: Degrowth of Aviation - reducing air travel in a just way (2019, abgerufen am 21.2.2020)