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Are Mileage Runs Destroying the Planet? A UK Committee Calls for A Ban on Frequent Flyer Programs

Are Mileage Runs Destroying the Planet? A UK Committee Calls for A Ban on Frequent Flyer Programs
Joe Cortez

A report to the British Committee on Climate Change is calling for the end of frequent flyer programs because they “incentivize excessive flying.” The 83-page report completed by Imperial College London is asking the United Kingdom to reconsider many of their current habits in order to reach “Net Zero” carbon emissions.

A report commissioned by the United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change is suggesting airlines do away with loyalty programs, as they could be considered detrimental to the environment. The 83-page report, titled Behaviour Change, Public Engagement and Net Zero and written by Dr. Richard Carmichael of Imperial College London, makes several suggestions on how Britons can reduce their carbon footprint—including reconsidering air travel.

The report considers multiple avenues of combating climate change, from shifting to environmentally-sustainable diets to changing domestic heating. A four-page section of the report focuses on aviation, and how frequent flyers are contributing to continued carbon emissions.

A Call to Abolish Schemes That Incentivize Excessive Flying

“If averaged across all households, UK aviation now makes up around 12% of a household’s carbon footprint,” Dr. Carmichael writes in the report. “However, emissions from flying vary enormously between households.”

In the report, researchers note that one household’s carbon footprint is around 8.1 tons. However, two people flying from Los Angeles to London leave a carbon footprint based on their class of service. Researchers estimate flyers in economy have a 5.7-ton carbon footprint, while the number expands to over 9 tons for those in premium economy.

“The emissions from one return ticket from London to New York are roughly equivalent to that of heating a typical home in the EU for a whole year,” Dr. Carmichael concludes.

Moreover, the report suggests a small majority of flyers take up most of the available seats. Every year, half of Britons won’t fly, while 15 percent of the British population occupy around 70 percent of flights. Accordingly, the report calls for a “Frequent Flyer Levy,” which would progressively increase with every flight purchased.

“The greatest beneficiaries of aviation’s generous tax treatment in the UK…are therefore those who pollute most and could most easily afford to pay more,” the report reads. “The norm of unlimited flying being acceptable needs to be challenged and, as a very highly-polluting luxury, it is suitable to taxation.”

But adding a “Frequent Flyer Levy” isn’t the only suggestion the report makes. It also calls for the abolishment of “air miles and frequent flyer loyalty schemes that incentivize excessive flying.” The study notes a now-overturned Norwegian law that banned flyers from collecting loyalty miles from domestic flights.

“Evidence also suggests that frequent flyers engage in additional flights to maintain their privileged traveler status (so-called ‘mileage runs’ or ‘status runs’) and that frequent flying is related to status and social identity,” the report says, citing a 2014 report written by Stefan Gössling and Scott Cohen. “Introducing restrictions to ‘all-you-can-fly’ passes and loyalty schemes which offer air miles would remove incentives to excessive or stimulated flying.”

The study also suggests airline marketing change to explain the carbon footprint from flight. The report asks carriers to show “emissions information expressed in terms that are meaningful to consumers.” For example, an airline marketing a flight within the United Kingdom could show how much of a carbon footprint the passenger would leave as a result of choosing flight over other travel methods or compared to their average yearly carbon footprint.

“As Someone Who Doesn’t Have Status, I Find the Idea Ridiculous”

FlyerTalkers are immediately hostile to the idea, noting on the forums airlines will continue to fly regardless of the carbon footprint left behind. Even if domestic flights were banned from collecting miles and loyalty status, flyers say aviation demand will continue to grow.

“Why doesn’t the [British] Government close Rolls Royce instead, as they make many things that affect the environment?” FlyerTalker garykung offers as an alternative to the suggestion.

“Even as someone who doesn’t have status I find the idea ridiculous,” writes HIDDY. “The aircraft will still fly even without tier point runners on them.”

“Banning [frequent flyer programs] in the UK (for example) would likely result in folks simply flipping their “loyalty alignment” to [American Airlines over British Airways] or [Delta Air Lines or Air France-KLM Flying Blue over Virgin Atlantic],” notes GrayAnderson. “Unless the government wants to take a serious stab at telling foreign airlines what to do.”

A Better Idea?

Other FlyerTalkers are taking to the forum to suggest more practical ideas. One includes reducing the number of connections any given flight may have, in order to reduce the number of unnecessary flights.

“Without going to extremes I hope there are some ways to optimize flying,” writes azepine00. “Countless connecting flights are booked because they are priced much lower than non-stops at least here in US.”

The UK Committee on Climate Change is “an independent, statutory body” established by Britain’s Climate Change Act 2008, which serves to advise the government on “reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change.” The group classifies the report as “supporting research,” and has not announced if they will suggest policy based on the findings. Instead, the committee notes the commissioned report is written to understand “…the potential for people to make choices that can contribute to reducing emissions, and what this means for policy.”

View Comments (11)

11 Comments

  1. naumank

    October 14, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    How about banning all private jets? And banning business class? This report belongs to the rubbish bin.

  2. davistev

    October 14, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    Stupid people . Frequent Flyer programmes encourage people to be loyal to a particular airline / alliance. They do not encourage people to fly more often. I fly monthly from Australia to the USA. The FF Programme helps me decide which airline to fly, not how often I will fly.

  3. jjmoore

    October 15, 2019 at 4:35 am

    The looney liberals are so full of great ideas. If we act on their baseless “instincts”…. you’re right. There would be no global emissions. There would also be no global economy and we would be plunged back into 3rd world living.

  4. Jinxed_K

    October 15, 2019 at 8:16 am

    @naumank
    Charter/private jets would be the best place to start IMO as well.

    Scheduled flights will go on no matter what even if the person filling the open seat is a mileage runner, vacationer, or nonrev. It’s not like that mileage runner is causing the airline to add an extra flight because he wants to earn a few miles to get his status so in the end, the ‘carbon footprint’ of the fight will not change.
    These days a majority of airline currency can be earned without flying a single time via rewards and credit cards so if you can meet the spend, it might actually reduce flying, although that doesn’t always go for status.

  5. rylan

    October 15, 2019 at 8:50 am

    Wow sounds like a typical far left socialist… lets penalize everyone who uses something because some people don’t. And lets throw a tax on it. Brilliant!

  6. closecover

    October 15, 2019 at 9:12 pm

    Want to really fight climate change? First let’s put into place policies that encourage limitations on family size. Then, we’ll talk.

  7. jctech

    October 16, 2019 at 4:49 am

    How does the person sitting in seat 2A have a greater carbon footprint than the person sitting in 32A, for that flight.

  8. jctech

    October 16, 2019 at 4:57 am

    What is the difference in carbon footprint between an A320 flying London to Edinburgh and 180 cars driving London to Edinburgh

  9. jrpallante

    October 16, 2019 at 5:40 am

    Let’s do all we can to foment class envy. That’s the ticket!

  10. manually

    October 16, 2019 at 11:02 am

    How about eliminating specially chartered government plane and the useless motor pools when government officials travel

  11. DrChaos

    October 16, 2019 at 6:54 pm

    The United Kingdom Committee on Climate Change “commissioned” Dr. Carmichael’s report with taxpayer money. Once decent, productive people realize that all things Climate Change are merely part of a cleverly implemented scheme by the private jet-flying Elite to oppress the middle class, they might free themselves from the yoke of their overlords and transition from subjects to citizens.

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