Most UK business travellers to fly less after lockdown, survey reveals

Most respondents are planning to fly less

Conducted by YouGov, the survey polled 1,414 frequent business travellers across the UK, Germany, France, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. Across this cohort of respondents, four in ten said they will fly less often once travel restrictions leave. The proportion increased to 56% for respondents from the UK.

Across the whole cohort, 5% of professionals said they will not take any more flights for business in the near future. Respondents said that technologies and skills around video conferencing have improved to such a level that they don’t feel the need to travel by plane at all. The majority of respondents said they were able to be just as productive or more productive without flying for meetings and other events.

Of the respondents who are planning to fly in the near term once restrictions ease, around six in ten would be willing to travel by rail instead if ticket prices are comparable. A similar proportion would be happy to switch from first-class or business class to economy seats on flights in the name of the environment, stating that their organisation would support this move. First and business class seats take up more space, meaning a greater proportion of the emissions from the plane’s journey are attributed to these customers.

Policy changes

The publication of the results come as Governments weigh their options for combining the need to help the travel and tourism sectors financially recover from Covid with the need to decarbonise. During the pandemic, new climate legislation has been moving forward in geographies including China, Canada, the US and the EU.

On the latter, French lawmakers voted this weekend to adopt a new climate bill. The bill will ban all domestic flights on routes that can be covered by train in two-and-a-half hours, in what is believed to be the first ban of its kind in Europe. It will need to pass the Senate and a final vote in the lower half.

The vote came shortly after the French Government confirmed plans to back a €4bn recapitalisation of Air France.

Here in the UK, the policy approach is very different. Boris Johnson and the Treasury are exploring changes to Air Passenger Duty (APD) that have proven unpopular across the green economy. The proposals entail an increase in APD for long-haul flights from economy tickets to private change, but a decrease in APD for domestic flights, or a reduced or zero rate for the return leg of short-haul flights abroad.

Bodies including the Climate Change Committee (CCC) are sceptical about the move. The CCC’s pre-pandemic advice to Ministers on aligning aviation with net-zero by 2050 was largely thrown out. It detailed how the sector can work with the Government to cap demand growth. The current Conservative Government is focussing more on innovation than on capping growth.

The YouGov survey asked respondents about the role of policy in making business travel more sustainable. Almost two-thirds (62%) of UK respondents said that think jet fuels’ tax-free status should be ended and more than one-half (51%) agreed that “Governments must legislate for airlines to decarbonise in order to meet the climate goals set out in the Paris agreement”.

Policy aside, many businesses are changing their travel policies to either discourage flying or encourage staff not to pick first-class or business class seats, as they continue on their own net-zero journeys. Organisations taking this approach include the Natural History Museum and Capgemini.

Flying usually makes up a significant proportion of absolute annual emissions for professional services firms including those in the finance and consulting sector.

Sarah George

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