The aviation industry gets its fair share of criticism, both earned and undeserved, but now airlines are being called out for a most unexpected reason – offering bargain airfares. In some quarters, the newfound popularity of air travel is now considered a scourge on both the environment and the cultural integrity of popular tourist destinations.
When adjusted for inflation, airfare today is cheaper than nearly in any other time in human history. For families who find themselves able to take advantage of what was a mode of transportation only available to the well-heeled in the not-so-distant past, this is the golden age of aviation. Environmentalists, on the other hand, aren’t convinced that putting the jet-set lifestyle in reach of the masses is necessarily a good thing.
In much the same way that single-use containers have fallen out of vogue, Scandinavians are rethinking the convenience of cheap air travel. According to Science X, the Swedes even have a name for the embarrassment resulting from choosing a commercial flight over more environmentally friendly forms of transportation. Flygskam, or “flight shame” has not only entered into modern vernacular but has also changed the way some people travel. Lawmakers in Sweden even introduced a hefty tax on air travel with the intention of lessening the environmental impact of rampant air travel.
“The objective of the tax is to minimize the carbon footprint of flights following a sharp increase in air travel,” Climate Minister spokesperson Isabella Lovin wrote in a statement unveiling the carbon tax on all flights to, from and within the country.
In his latest column, “You Don’t Have a Right to Cheap Flights,” Bloomberg Europe columnist Leonid Bershidsky endorses measures designed to make air travel less accessible. He asserts that airlines, an industry specifically exempted from the Paris Agreement on climate change, is hardly likely to become more environmentally responsible out of its own sense of social accountability.
“I, for one, would welcome a world in which air travel would require more investment than today, making people more aware of physical distances and more appreciative of the differences between places,” Bershidsky concludes in his May 7 op-ed. “Instant travel as a cheap commodity isn’t people’s natural right: It has only existed for about three decades. Its impact on climate could be a good starting point for some lifestyle rethinking.”
Bershidsky explains that concerns over passengers’ carbon footprints are only the start of how bargain basement airfares have changed the world for the worse. He writes that the flood of tourists to cultural sites around the world, fueled by bargain airline tickets, has in many ways led directly “to the creation of cheap cardboard versions of major cultures, made especially for low-engagement tourists.”
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