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Did possibility of a frequent flyer tax seal Thomas Cook’s fate?

Government has been asked to consider levy in bid to discourage emissions-producing air travel

As a rough rule of thumb, I’m not big on conspiracy theories. But I’ve just spotted a news item on the BBC website which may have some relevance to the British Government’s decision not to bail out the Thomas Cook travel company.

The item is headlined: Introduce frequent flyer levy to fight emissions, government told.

Now I’ve put two and two together and maybe come up with five, but I’m of the opinion that if the Government is seriously considering such a levy it would have been especially irresponsible to plough taxpayers’ money into a travel company that is/was heavily reliant on air travel.

Imagine it. “We’ve put £250 million into Thomas Cook, but now we are introducing a tax which, we hope, will discourage people from flying so often.” 

At a time when the Government is being accused of irresponsibility on several fronts (the Supreme Court has just said that suspending Parliament was illegal) this would have been another nail in what looks like becoming its coffin.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) believes a “frequent flyer levy” would help curb the growing demand for air travel. Nothing to do with the Government maybe finding another way to raise money, then!

It should be pointed out that the Government (if there is still one in a few days’ time) has not said it will act on this recommendation. It will study it. But, even the possibility of introducing a levy would have flown (bad pun) in the face of backing Thomas Cook. Is this what they call an oxymoron? Well, some sort of moron anyway.

Analysis indicates that 70% of UK flights are made by a wealthy 15% of the population, with 57% not flying abroad at all.

Aviation is on course to be the biggest source of UK emissions by 2050, says the BBC. 

The BBC report says the CCC is not clear how a levy (nice word for tax) would work in practice. 

Would it apply to business at a time when the UK wants to stimulate trade? And, if business travel were exempt, how would you stop people pretending their flights were for work to avoid paying the tax? 

The collapse of Thomas Cook is a little close to home. Well, work actually. My company is based next door to Cook’s Lynch Wood, Peterborough, headquarters. Outside my window is the TC car park. It’s lunchtime on the Tuesday after the announcement of its failure, yet the car park looks surprisingly full. 

Maybe they are working on salvaging profitable parts of the business. I hope that’s the case for the benefit of some of the 1,000 or so employees housed there.

A scan of the still-functioning TC website seems to suggest that Cook’s has/had 10 stores in Greater London. That’s out of a combined 600 in the UK and Ireland. 

Of course, it is easy to be wise after the event, but I believe that the days of travel agents on the high street are numbered due in no small part to the ease of using the internet. 

The irony that I am expressing this view via the internet is not lost on me. 

Indeed, the net lies behind the gradual demise of many high street names. Even the big boys such as Marks & Spencer are closing stores in a bid to stay abreast of modern shopping trends.

So, after 178 years Thomas Cook is no more and the internet and TV channels are now filling up with stories of other airlines cashing in on its demise by heavily inflating the price of air tickets. 

I have nothing but sympathy for those caught up in this mess – both holiday makers and staff. But maybe the travelers need to act soon. In seriously screwed up Britain, they may soon find another tax lumped onto the price of their air ticket if frequent flyer levies are introduced!

PS: No indication of what constitutes “frequent” in frequent flyer. More than once, more than twice? Would this be a deal breaker for those who consider buying a second home in, say, the South of France intending to fly down there a couple of times a month? 

I guess these are the very people such a measure is aimed at – those who can afford to pay the tax. Should prove popular with the Tory faithful in the run-up to a (now inevitable?) general election.  

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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