Business travellers planning to cut future flights, poll finds
Most business travellers in the UK will take fewer flights than they used to, according to a poll, thanks to increased use of video conferencing. Only a third expected to return to the same level of flying as before the coronavirus pandemic, once travel restrictions are lifted.
The huge reduction in air travel caused by Covid-19 had no impact on the work life or productivity of the majority of the business flyers, the poll found, with one in five saying the shutdown had had a positive impact.
Carbon emissions from aviation were growing at 5.7% a year before the pandemic, despite many countries committing to cut all emissions to net zero by 2050 to tackle the climate crisis. Green campaigners argue that the aviation shutdown provides an opportunity to put the sector on a sustainable trajectory.
Business-class seats provide most of airlines’ revenues but result in more emissions than those in the economy cabin because of the greater space occupied by each passenger.
Business fliers also fly far more frequently than most holidaygoers, with 10% of those in the poll taking more than 10 flights in the year up to the first lockdown in March 2020. Bill Gates recently estimated that more than 50% of business travel would end as companies adopted online meetings and cut costs.
Campaigners also argue that frequent flying is an elite and unfair activity – a recent study showed that just 1% of the world’s population caused half of aviation’s carbon emissions in 2018. In September, the UK’s climate assembly showed people would support a levy on frequent flyers and in the new poll almost two-thirds of business fliers said the tax-free status of jet fuels should end.
“Flying for business meetings burns up time and money, as well as our climate,” said Alethea Warrington, of the climate action charity Possible. “What we need now is investment in affordable train travel, not unnecessary airport growth which threatens to crash the climate.”
Kingsmill Bond of the thinktank Carbon Tracker said: “European business travellers are adopting new ways of working, which means less travel. This reinforces our central observation that 2019 was the peak of the fossil fuel era.”
A spokesman for the International Air Transport Association, which represents the world’s airlines, said it was difficult to assess future demand while most borders remained in effect closed and with no clear timetable for reopening. “While business travel may take longer to recover than leisure travel, rather than speculate, our focus is on working with governments to establish benchmarks and timetables for reopening borders,” he said.
The poll surveyed business travellers in seven European countries including the UK and overall 45% said they would be flying less often in future and 38% said their air travel would be about the same as before.
YouGov surveyed 1,414 business travellers in the UK, Germany, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark in December 2020 and January 2021. The poll was commissioned by the European Climate Foundation.