Debate | Budget Airlines, Are They Worth The Cost?

If you were lucky enough to have gone abroad this summer you may have benefited from the cheap deals that budget airlines offer, but was it worth it? Budget airlines are often criticised for cutting corners in order to provide the cheapest fair possible and, in turn, maximise their profits. However, this is all done at the expense of the environment, their staff’s welfare and, sometimes, even our comfort and safety. LS Debate asks, are budget airlines a good thing?


Jake Hulyer

Third Year English

Before budget airlines began trading, air travel was prohibitively expensive for most people. The opportunity to travel was reserved only for those who had greater financial means. Whereas today, if you’re willing to deal with more cramped conditions, absurdly tight luggage regulations and frustrating websites, you can have the opportunity to see and experience parts of the world which you never previously would have been able to. Although there are environmental concerns which are clearly linked to the rise in air travel as a result of the proliferation in budget air lines, I think that we must find a compromise whereby it is not just a select few who get to partake in the fantastic experiences that can be gained by travelling abroad. It seems to me to be far too problematic a conclusion to take that not everyone should be entitled to travel and see parts of the world. While I’m aware that this is a dilemma for wealthier nations such as ours, it shouldn’t mean that we don’t strive towards achieving equality wherever possible. Furthermore, global tourism provides a huge source of income for less wealthy nations, as well as our own and others within Europe. Again, it’s not to say that there aren’t big faults within the tourism industry which can affect some destinations for the worse, but by striving to engage in measured and ethical tourism wherever possible, I would argue that it’s much more positive than the option of dismantling the industry entirely. Engaging with other cultures through travel seems crucial at a time like this when national and international relationships are strained in the face of the continuing economic crisis. When some governments use scapegoat tactics, dividing people and cultures as a way of distracting from real problems, it’s good to recognise what we share with other cultures what may initially seem a long way from our own. The year I spend studying abroad in Spain was a chance to both immerse myself within another culture as well as learn another language. It was a fantastic experience that I think has benefited me immensely. I wouldn’t have been able to go on that year had it not been for the existence of budget airlines which allowed me to get there for a reasonable price. Budget airlines are undoubtedly a good thing in the way they have opened up possibilities for people who could have never otherwise travelled, but this conclusion needs to come with recognition of our individual responsibility in making sure that our lifestyles don’t irreparably damage the environment. While it’s a benefit that should be available to everyone, it may well be that we need to ration the extent to which we use aeroplanes as primary mode of international transport by encouraging international travellers to use trains, buses and car-shares where possible.

TJ Brooke Bullard

Third Year History and English
The total environmental impact of air travel is difficult to measure, but by some estimations aviation accounts for approximately 34 per cent of direct household energy use. Much of this pollution is linked to the exponential growth in the popularity of no frills airlines since the mid 1990s. Despite this fact, advocates for budget airlines argue that cheap flights facilitate the democratisation of air travel while providing infinite possibilities for cultural exchange and, therefore, the possibilities created by carbon offsetting render budget airlines positive. Unfortunately, each of these claims is spurious; without them the foundation of support for low-cost airlines collapses. An increase in air tax and subsidies on more sustainable forms of transport is essential. Carbon offsetting programmes such as those offered by many no frills airlines are often presented as a panacea for carbon emissions. The basic premise behind this type of individual carbon offsetting is the opportunity for people to purchase carbon offsets in order to mitigate the greenhouse emissions caused by flying. Practically, this involves investing money in projects that reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The reality, however, is more complex. Cases of industry fraud and scandal aside, an independent report from carbon retirement found that less than 30 pence of every pound in some schemes actually finds its way to these initiatives. More generally, it is extremely difficult to measure accurately the true effect of the programmes funded by carbon offsetting schemes. The key is not to offset emissions, but to avoid creating them in the first place. Supporters argue that, regardless of their environmental impact, the popularity of budget airlines has resulted in a democratisation of air travel. Therefore, they claim an increase in air tax would fall disproportionately on lower income families. However, evidence points to the contrary. An independent study conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority shows that while the overall number of passengers has increased since 1996 there has been little change in the relative income of leisure travellers. In fact, it appears that the same high income groups are flying as before, only more often. It appears that richer people, with more available leisure time and second homes abroad are benefitting disproportionately from the cheaper flights and increased routes which budget airlines offer. Nevertheless, some may argue that an increase in foreign travel generally facilitates a positive form of cultural exchange. However, the very nature of cheap weekend breaks created by budget airlines is essentially transient and shallow. The romance and excitement of the journey is removed and often very little of the country and its people are seen and explored in comparison to other forms of transport. If budget airlines consistently fail to confirm their positive claims while still disproportionately impacting on our overall greenhouse gas emissions then it is time to look at alternative means of travel. Sustainable travel does not mean limited travel. An increase in air tax, subsidies on other forms of transport and a wider utilisation of car share schemes would mean we could still enjoy the world around us while effectively reducing our carbon footprint.

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