Why Easyjet is not ‘democratising’ air travel

Saturday, 29th December 2007 at 15:08 UTC 6 comments

I’ve been thinking about addressing this issue for quite a while. The myth perpetuates that low-cost airlines are somehow making air travel more affordable, and thus more accessible to the working class. This, it turns out, is complete nonsense, as I shall attempt to demonstrate. The same, by the way, is also true for NXEC and Virgin advance tickets and would be true for megabus if the full fare wasn’t still ridiculously cheap. With the aviation industry trying to look credible in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that it must be all but shut down completely, the idea that somehow Easyjet, Jet2, Ryanair et al are good for society needs stamping on.

The thing with people in badly paid jobs is that they usually get their work rota a week in advance. Holiday bookings often can’t be fixed a long way in advance, and even though they may get random patches of several rest days together, they don’t actually get enough warning time to book cheap tickets. Generally they’re also discouraged from booking more than one ‘family holiday’ block of leave.

The people who actually benefit are those rich enough to contemplate multiple trips overseas, including a few long weekends each year. Because they’re just using up weekends and odd days of leave, they can book much further in advance than their poorer counterparts. They can also afford to have to ‘cancel’ the odd trip, and low-costs don’t generally refund tickets.

Also, a lot of cheap seats on some routes go to groups like Hen-parties, which not only makes the residents of such cities as Prague have an even dimmer view of the British, it also means that many flights to those cities are filled with people might, a few years ago, have settled for a night out in London, thus creating a fresh sector of carbon emissions which previously barely entered the equation.

By the time your average working class family is assured enough of leave to be able to place a booking for flights, those whose lives are more predictable have generally snapped them up first, and yet the people who can ‘afford’ to book early are simply able to book again and again, compounding the situation. Low cost air-travel has not benefited the less well off. Instead it has put multiple international trips per year within reach of many more of the better off members of society.

A figure I heard not so long ago said that in the last ten years the percentage of UK citizens expecting to fly at least once each year had gone down from 55% to 45%, while the number of people taking more than one international trip a year had more than doubled, while still remaining a tiny proportion of the population. Another put the average income of an adult Stanstead user (the poor man’s Heathrow?) at £45k, only £10k lower than Heathrow. The figures don’t add up.

Once upon a time, many people relied on last minute deal, a system whereby flights got cheaper nearer the time, to book holidays on short notice. While low-cost airlines might want to claim they cater for such people, they actually cater for those who have always had the flexibility to book early and often.

So there are two things that can be drawn from this. First, that low-cost airlines are making frequent flying easier for the rich, and not making annual flying any easier for the poor. Second, that the culture of flying is not as pervasive as might be thought. The graph of flights/year is getting steeper, and yes, for the middle and upper classes, there is expectation to fly, but to say that the whole of our society is addicted to flying is ignoring the reality faced by many.  In short, even within the UK, it is still very much the rich who are creating more than their fair share of carbon emissions through flying.


Entry filed under: Climate Change, Economics, Environment, Materialism, Sustainability, Travel.

A strange reminder New Beginnings

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  Wednesday, 2nd January 2008 at 2:35 UTC

    Very interesting.

    Also, you’re apparently a postgraduate. Check http://www.criticsrant.com/bb/reading_level.aspx

  • 2. Betty  |  Thursday, 3rd January 2008 at 10:09 UTC

    Ooo, I got Genius! Ha ha.

    Shop workers, waitresses, nurses, anyone on a rota actually often can’t get the time off for a last minute week/weekend away. Working in shops/cafes etc in York you have to battle to have a Saturday off, Sunday is easier but you’ll very rarely actually get a real weekend, and certainly not at short notice.

    I work in a badly paid job in a cafe, albeit part time, and the full timers book their leave months in advance, and are encouraged to, because the managers won’t let more than two people be on holiday at once, and they need to be sure they have enough staff available at all times. If they try with two weeks notice to get a week off, it’ll never happen. I’m the only British person that works there, and the Polish/Spanish/Lithuanian/Albanian/Algerian/other staff are really benefitting from budget flights, they can book their holiday months in advance, and get a flight home for £20. The Colombians aren’t doing so well at the moment.

    Would you count a nurse as badly paid? It’s better than minimum wage but not as high as they’re worth. Anyway, a nurese I know has to book her holiday at least 9 months in advance so the hospital knows they always will have enough staff.

    But I do see your point regarding people with really low job security. If you book a holiday, then lose your job, you’re unlikely to be able to get a new one if you are already asking for holiday in the first couple of months.

    The hen party going to Prague that probably would’ve settled for London is flying precisely because the low cost of flights makes Eastern Europe definitely cheaper than London. It was always cheaper to drink there, but a budget flight a cheap hotel is now cheaper than a train ticket. This does of course create extra carbon emmisions, but they are able to fly where previously they wouldn’t have been able to.

    So, I’ve been waffling.
    I think that budget flights do mean that the rich fly more. But it’s not because people on lower incomes can’t book their leave in advance.

  • 3. Duck  |  Friday, 4th January 2008 at 19:32 UTC

    I’ve done a fair number of ~minimum-wage jobs. Generally I’ve had to book time off long in advance, & it’s been particularly difficult to get time off at ‘peak’ times (weekends, public holidays). Some of that’s the nature of the job – care work is 365 days a year & as a single person I get last pick over people with families, shop work is busier at weekends & holidays.

    For both care work & shop work I’ve had rotas indefinitely in advance – eg always Thursdays. The only exception to this has been ‘bank’ care work where you might be phoned up & told to get in ASAP, but you can always say you aren’t available.
    This actually makes it easy to get cheap advance train tickets (especially with Internet access, though turning up at the station in person or by phone works too). So I’m not sure that your statement holds.

    ‘Average’ incomes aren’t useful if that’s the mean – the modal income would probably be a better measure, otherwise you’ll get a skew from the few squillionaires who fly lots even if most of the sample is <£15 000/yr.

  • 4. Greg  |  Sunday, 6th January 2008 at 15:51 UTC

    Well, I’ve never done a job for longer than a summer so I can’t speak on this one. However, Climate Camp’s website’s out of date, or at least it doesn’t say anything about the 2008 camp. Has the location been decided yet? How about the site of the new Kingsnorth coal power station build?

  • 5. Art  |  Monday, 14th January 2008 at 20:39 UTC

    who told u ppl cant book holday time in advance…. this is not true!!!! I ve done quite few restaurant\bar jobs, you can and u even HAVE TO say to yr direct manager when you will be off, and obviously NOT FEW DAYS IN ADVANCE!!!! this is easy to understand, innit. so cheap airlines DIES make travel more affordable. after all just have a look at the statistics on the internet and you will find out that number of airlaine passengers have gone up in recent years. you can find such information if u really want, I am surprised you did do this b4 starting this article.

  • 6. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 18th January 2008 at 18:19 UTC

    While it might be true I screwed up a bit, and should have said “those with low job security”, at least one person above has completely missed the point. The number of people flying has gone down; the number of flights taken has gone up. Whats happened is that the rich are taking many times more flights than they have done, while the poorest are still “lucky” to make one trip a year. While I might have got bits wrong, the point stands: low-cost simply means more flights per year for those who can afford to, rather than more people flying.



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