EDITORIAL: Europe must avoid air travel regentrification
Ahead of the UK’s new immigration rules that came into effect in February, mandating multiple COVID-19 tests and mandatory quarantines in government-approved hotels for some international arriving passengers, this headline caught the eye: “You have to be desperate and wealthy to fly from Monday.”
The headline, on the Sky News channel, was quoting Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye talking about the £1,750 ($2,400) bill that UK-arriving passengers faced for triple testing and a 10-day hotel quarantine.
The same theme, of travel being related to wealth, re-emerged in a different way during a European Union policy event on Feb. 25. The event was about the European aviation industry’s Destination 2050 carbon neutral roadmap. As part of that discussion, an environmental lobbyist observed that air travel demand reduction could become necessary if zero-emission technologies do not move quickly enough.
EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren countered with an interesting observation if air travel demand was artificially capped by higher ticket prices.
“People that are privileged will be able to continue to fly. Wealthy people—just like before deregulation—will be able to continue to fly. Load factors are going to be worse, inefficiency will creep into the system and hardworking families, students and the like, are not going to be able to enjoy the same privilege as people who can afford to pay,” he said.
Lundgren, who becomes the Airlines for Europe (A4E) chair in March, raises a valid point. One of the cornerstones on which the EU was founded was the free movement of goods and people. European air transport liberalization was one of the EU’s greatest successes, making cheap and accessible air travel a reality. And, fast-forwarding to the current day, the cultural focus on equality has never been greater.
“There is no evidence, whatsoever, that taxation has done anything for the environment: nil,” Lundgren said. “The question must be: How can we continue with the benefit that aviation gives to economies, to people's lives, and do that in a [sustainable] way?”
He argued that air travel should not be reserved for “rich and privileged people, who can afford to pay whatever the cost.”
Restoring air travel to its former status, as a privileged mode of transport that is only accessible to the wealthy, whether for health or environmental reasons, would surely be an EU own-goal and a huge backward step for society as a whole.