In the mid 1980s, I owned a travel agency which specialized in cheap airline tickets to Asia. I still have my ledger of every ticket I ever sold, with passenger name, destination and airline code, how much it cost me, how much I sold it for. That was right at the start of airline industry deregulation. Not to brag (she said, bragging), but I saved people a lot of money – usually 25-40%.
It was also the beginning of the huge surge in airline travel as a common thing, rather than as an occasional, special event — no longer was air travel only for the well-off.
Nowadays, we can all go online and search for cheap tickets. We can sign up for e-newsletters that alert us to special airfares and random mistake fares. And I see fares that are less than the discounted fares I was able to offer 35 years ago. Think about that. 35 years ago!
35 years ago, Washington State’s minimum wage was $2.30/ hour, and the median income in 1985 was just over $18,000 a year. Crude oil was $26.92 a barrel. And my records show my discounted price for a roundtrip ticket to Hong Kong 1985 averaged about $600.
Now in 2020 the minimum wage is $13.50 an hour, the median annual income is $64,000, and crude oil is over $58/barrel. Adjusted for inflation, the $600 in 1985 money is $1433 in 2020 money.
I just looked on Skyscanner.com at random dates for flights to Hong Kong, and came up with a fare of $567 in today’s dollars. Less than I was charging in 1985, not even adjusted for inflation.
That ticket to Hong Kong should be priced at about $1400, not $567.
Just today, I received an alert for a roundtrip fare to Mumbai from San Francisco for $626. That would have been the discounted one way fare in my day. That is 8,400 miles each way, and 12 time zones away. The other side of the planet. Less than 4 cents a mile. This is insane. I can barely drive to the grocery store for 4 cents a mile.
The hidden cost to all this flying around, as we know, is the global climate crisis. Air transportation is a major source of carbon pollution. However, as long as it is so cheap to fly, people are not going to change their flying habits. I know I am not going to give up traveling.
“Make Big Polluters Pay for Mass Tree Planting, Officials Say”
So goes a Guardian article this week. The Committee on Climate Change in the UK proposes that “the planting of 100m trees a year in the UK to tackle the climate emergency could be paid for by new carbon levies on oil companies and airlines.” These industries are contributing to the climate crisis, and so they should do all possible to help ameliorate it. That’s what carbon offsets are all about.
I agree. It will raise fares, but as I think I have shown above, the prices of airline tickets are absurdly and unsustainably low. In light of the millions of animals killed in the Australian bush fires alone, I would say immorally low.
We Must Each Do Our Part
But we can’t lay this all at the feet of big corporations without anteing up a claim ticket for our own portion of this “carbon baggage”. I think most travelers are well aware of the polluting aspects of air travel, but few people have the time to travel by other means. I also believe that most people want to do something to help the environment, but that they don’t know what to do.
So my idea is to tack on a landing fee of $25 to every passenger who lands at an airport in the State of Washington, to be used specifically for reforestation and to preserve the trees we already have. A landing fee amounts to a user fee to offset the carbon emissions of air travel. $25 is not going to keep people from flying, but it will help Washington live up to its nickname as the Evergreen State.
50 million travelers pass through just Seatac Airport every year. This would raise about 1.25 billion dollars per year for forests. That’s a lot of green!
I say Washington State airports because I am first and foremost concerned with my local area, my corner of the planet. Doing what I can with what I’ve got where I am, as Teddy Roosevelt advised. And I think it is a plan which can be most efficiently enacted at the state level.
Feel free to pursue the concept of a landing fee for forests for your airport, port authority, state, province or country, and may we all live in evergreen states!
(See the concept flyer here.)