The pseudo-normalisation of flying

Most people I know travel frequently. I realised on an intellectual level that there are various factors which mean my friends, family and acquaintances probably travel more than average. But I didn’t realise quite how much more. This Guardian article cites a government report that makes clear what a small proportion of the UK’s population fly regularly:

Over half the UK population doesn’t fly even once a year. A very small minority flies three or more times per year, just 15% of UK residents, and that group accounts for seven out of 10 of all flights taken.

It’s somewhat jarring to realise that the overwhelming majority of people I know are members of that 15%. It would be interesting to see national comparisons for these figures. Is this stratification a common pattern? Is it even more pronounced elsewhere? It’s frequently argued in the UK that low cost airlines have democratised travel, implying that opposition to low-cost flying represents an elitist attempt to return international travel to the restricted few. But it looks prima facie like the reduction of costs in flying have led a minority to travel much more frequently, rather than making international travel a regular part of life for the majority.

I was struck recently by the discovery that to travel from the West Midlands to Edinburgh cost less than half the price of a train ticket (£90 to £240 if I recall correctly) and took a quarter of the time. The costs are structured in a way that almost seems as if it was designed to incentivise domestic flying. I’ll reluctantly admit that I’ve flown to Edinburgh twice since then. I dislike the idea of domestic flying but I dislike paying twice the cost of a flight for a ten hour round trip on the train even more. As Andrew Simms points out in that article, aviation is “hugely subsidised and compared to other economic sectors enjoys multibillion-pound tax breaks, from its fuel to its VAT-free tickets and duty-free emporia”.

This regulatory environment doesn’t emerge naturally. It’s something that’s sought and brought about through lobbying and campaigning. To what extent has its success been founded on creating an impression that flying has been normalised as a fact of life for the majority of the British population?


Categories: Rethinking The World

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