Another week, another story making the rounds, and this one may take the cake. A study commissioned by the UK Government suggests banning frequent flyer miles, or loyalty programs to help reduce carbon emissions and environmental impacts from air travel. Of all the dumb ideas, this is amongst the worst offenders. Here’s why…
Before I dive in, let me quickly reiterate that I believe in climate change, the science behind it and the need to act to curb our impact on the environment. Full stop, no doubt. But this is just straight up dumb, and feels like reading my essays from when I was a freshman in college. Naturally, the study comes from a University in London.
Air Miles democratize travel. They are not for one percenters, they are for everyone, and most people earn them without flying. Something those college kids probably haven’t figured out yet. There’s at least 20 ways to earn miles from home.
Only a small percentage of each plane is filled with seats gained by redeeming airline miles, and filling those seats helps to maximize each flight, by helping more people get somewhere without an additional take off and landing. Airlines actually reduce their carbon footprint by allowing people to use miles to send planes off full.
Air miles aren’t the reason 99.99999999 percent of people travel. Most people will travel anyway, and if anything, the only “negative” impact is that miles help people travel in more comfortable seats. But again, those seats are flying, and better that they go filled than not.
Airlines are doing more now to curb their impact than most other travel industries, including creating jet fuel based on trapped carbon emissions, or from waste that already exists. These fuels could reduce CO2 by 70% per tonne. That’s massive. Add in more fuel efficient aircraft, like 787 and A350 which are 30% more efficient than previous models, and that’s big too.
In countries like the UK, which is the country looking at banning airline miles, passengers in higher cabins pay greater taxes and passenger duties, which could be better used to offset carbon impacts. So even if airline miles are getting people upgraded, they’re paying more which the government can do more with.
Seeing the world helps people realize that it needs saving, and many countries are entirely dependent on tourism. The world would be far worse off, less tolerant and more impoverished if tourism shuttered. Air miles help people see the world, not just rich people, all people.
Why not attack shipping, cruises, or any of the more wasteful industries first? I’m not saying there aren’t improvements that can be made in air travel, but it’s not even close to the worst offender, yet is the one in the news because it’s easily made classist.
Amusingly, my friend Tim from Points To Be Made found that Imperial College London, the University which made the study actually claims that all air miles flown on behalf of the university, be it from staff or PhD students belong to them, and not the individual who flies.
“In general air miles (or credit card points) acquired by a member of staff as a result of official travel are not taxable and are not for personal use.” – Imperial College
That’s an absolutely ridiculous policy, and against everything that airline miles stand for. For a University advocating for the dismissal of airline miles, they seem rather fond of them, and keen to hoard them.