climate change globalisation transport

What about a global frequent flyer levy?

Brits fly more than any other nationality. We take so many flights that one out every 12 international air passengers is British. Even so, half the adult population doesn’t fly at all in any given year, and it’s mainly the richest that take multiple flights a year.

That’s why there’s a good case for a Frequent Flyer Levy. Rather than tax all flights equally, a levy would escalate for each flight that you take. You might get one a year for free, and if you’re flying five or six times a year you’d have to think twice about that.

The Conservatives aren’t interested and it won’t happen any time soon, but I suspect we’ll see a scheme like this in Britain at some point. But if we can do it nationally, could it be done globally?

That’s something the International Council on Clean Transportation have been investigating. Aviation is a tricky sector to decarbonise and it will be very expensive. A progressive global levy on aviation would raise funding for sustainable flying from the wealthiest parts of the world, without pushing up prices in places where flying is more rare. The poorest would not be priced out.

Their report into the idea includes this map, which shows the countries that would pay the levy and those that wouldn’t. Britain would pay the top rate.

To put some precise figures on things, the cost of transitioning to zero carbon aviation has been estimated at $121 billion a year in investment. You could raise that $121 billion with a global Frequent Flyer Levy, starting at just $9 per passenger for a first flight, and rising to $177 for the 20th flight. And if you can afford to fly 20 times in a year, you can well afford an extra $177 per ticket to protect a livable planet.

Most of these funds would be raised by the richest, as 80% of flights are taken by the wealthiest 20%. Frequent flyers are a big part of that, with 2% of the most regular flyers accounting for 40% of all flights.

Under this proposal, the funding for developing and rolling out sustainable aviation would be passed fairly and proportionately to those with the highest emissions from flying.

Could such a thing ever be implemented? It would need a central passenger database, and airlines would need to check it at the point of sale to apply the right tax. An international body would need to be responsible for it. But if the technical questions could be ironed out, it sounds to me like a pretty common sense idea that would raise significant sums of money without most of us ever needing to think about it.


  1. Businesses should have to pay for polluting, too. It might make them have to resort to zoom meetings sometimes – so be it. We can also levy the tax on businesses based in countries that don’t have a carbon tax…it should be universally applied.

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