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Leonid Bershidsky

Taxing Short, Cheap Flights Makes a Lot of Sense

In Europe, budget air travel is unnecessary and a climate threat.

Predatory pack.

Predatory pack.

Photographer: Fabrice Coffrini

Germany’s former transport minister (and current senior legislator) Alexander Dobrindt has proposed setting a price floor on air tickets, to eliminate the cheapest offerings from Europe’s ubiquitous discount airlines. The idea probably will be rejected for political reasons, but it’s actually one to consider when it comes to reducing air travel’s climate impact.

It’s difficult to tax airline tickets: Taxation is regulated by the 1944 Chicago Convention and a spate of bilateral agreements, and in the European Union, taxes shouldn’t interfere with the workings of a free common market. According to a 2018 report by the Dutch consultancy CE Delft, it’s legally problematic, if not impossible, to tax flights based on fuel consumption, although it might be possible to set up tax brackets based on various emissions. In any case, almost every new ticket tax is challenged in the courts. The rulings have shaped the levies as they exist today.