Climate Campaign ‘A Free Ride’ Proposes Frequent Flyer Levy To Fight Rising Air Travel Emissions

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“History will be kind to Heathrow climate protesters who stop us flying,” writes The Guardian’s George Monbiot. And he’s right: international bodies have repeatedly warned of the impending doom of climate change, yet too little has been done. In an attempt to prevent further damage to our planet – before it becomes too late – activists from A Free Ride will fly drones over Heathrow with the aim to pressure the government to introduce a “Frequent Flyer Levy”. 

A Free Ride is made up of a group of travellers campaigning for fairer travel by replacing the current tax on flights with a new system that places levies on people according to how often they fly. According to the coalition, frequent flyers who represent only 15% of the flying population, take over 70% of all flights. In order to pressure the government to adopt this frequent flier levy, activists from the group are planning a Heathrow Pause, which will involve flying toy drones consecutively within the restricted zone of Heathrow airport with an intention to suspend flights. In doing so, the group hopes to denormalise the planet-unfriendly way to travel. 

Indeed, travelling by air produces a huge amount of carbon emissions. The global aviation industry, carrying over 4 billion passengers on planes last year, is responsible for 2.5% of the world’s carbon emissions annually. While this might not appear to be huge figure, our climate crisis calls for an evaluation of every decision we make, and the impact it leaves on our environment. Especially as the number of flights is predicted to double within 20 years, if aviation growth is left unchecked, the consequences to the planet in terms of carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions could be dire.

Despite the fact that governments from around the world have committed to emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement in an attempt to keep rising temperatures down, state leaders are continuing to expand airport capacity. Governments seem to trust the solutions that the aviation industry has come up with (in hopes to counter flygskam), such as introducing fuel-efficient lightweight aircrafts and switching to biofuels.

Even if these proposals do materialise, they do not provide an adequate answer to the frequent flyer trend, which will continue to drive up carbon emissions and exacerbate global heating. For now, the only feasible solution to slow down rising temperatures is to travel less by plane. 

The A Free Ride activists don’t wish to see air travel banned altogether. Rather than proposing a tax on every flight, they are suggesting a sliding scale – under their plan, there would be no aviation levy for the first flight in any year, but an escalating premium for every subsequent flight a consumer takes.

In conversation with The Guardian, one of the Heathrow climate protesters Valerie Brown said: “It’s not easy to face the idea of prison, but it’s even more frightening to me to think about what my grandchildren…will face in 20 or 30 year time.”

We are out of time. In addition to supporting tree planting initiatives, reducing our meat and dairy intake and using less air conditioning, our planet also needs us to stop frequent flying. 

Lead image courtesy of PxHere.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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