Close this search box.

WaPo touts report calling for ‘global tax’ on commercial flying (but not private jets) – ‘Would require’ global ‘centralized system to track passports’

Frequent fliers are a problem for the planet. Should they pay more?


A report suggests a novel way of curbing climate pollution from air travel: A global tax on people who fly the most, with the proceeds going toward research and development into sustainable aviation fuels, The Post’s Shannon Osaka reports.

The report from the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation recommends a frequent flier tax that starts on the second flight each person takes per year, at a rate of $9. It would then steadily increase, reaching $177 for the 20th flight in a single year.

While aviation accounts for about 2.5 percent of global carbon emissions, at the personal level, it has an enormous footprint practically unmatched by any other individual action. Avoiding a transatlantic flight from New York City to London, for instance, could prevent 600 kilograms of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere — about double the impact of going vegan for a year.

“We’re saying ‘If you want to fly more, that’s fine,’” said Sola Zheng, a researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation and the lead author of the report. “You’ve just got to pay a bit more.”

The report suggests a frequent flier tax that starts on the second flight each individual takes per year, at a rate of $9. It would then steadily ratchet up, reaching $177 for the 20th flight in a single year. (A “flight” in this case, is a single take off and landing — that is, half of a round trip.) For most Americans — who take two or fewer flights per year — the tax would cost about the same as buying a drink and a bag of chips at the airport. But business travelers and other frequent fliers racking up dozens of flights every 12 months would face steeper costs.

Such a tax, according to the study, could fully fund the transition from fossil fuels to sustainable aviation fuel. According to the International Civil Aviation Organization — the United Nations agency that coordinates international air travel — switching to sustainable fuels and making other aircraft efficiency improvements will cost around $121 billion per year until 2050. (Sustainable aviation fuels, which are biofuels made from things like corn, oil and grease, do exist but cost two to five times more than equivalent jet fuels made from fossil fuels).

It’s an elegant-seeming solution for what has, at times, looked like an intractable problem. Despite their large carbon footprints, medium- or long-haul flights (often defined as flights lasting more than three or four hours), have few viable alternatives. Unlike Thunberg, most people can’t snag a ultrafast yacht to cross the Atlantic Ocean. In the United States, swearing off flying entirely means consigning oneself to a life without much international travel and without the ability to easily visit family members across the country.

Although the authors didn’t attempt to include private jet travel, due to a lack of data, Zheng said that including a similar tax for those using private jets could further shift the burden to the world’s wealthiest consumers.

And because the tax is levied per flight — instead of per mile traveled or per kilogram of carbon dioxide emitted — it also could have the added benefit of encouraging travelers to take trains or other forms of transportation for short-haul trips. Consumers might try to “save” their plane fares for longer trips, like transatlantic flights, where there are truly no good alternatives.

Implementation of a global tax would be challenging, to say the least; it would require international coordination and a centralized system to track passports and other forms of identification to count how many times each person flies.

But Zheng says it shows a way forward that doesn’t rely on a complete halt to flying — and that doesn’t add to the burdens on low-income citizens.

“If you wanted to raise money for decarbonization, this is one way to do it,” Zheng said.


Related Links: 

COVID lockdown: People ‘must make a declaration as to why they need to travel’ – Proposed Climate lockdown: ‘You can’t fly commercial unless it is ‘morally justifiable’