The plane would have flown anyway

Zuletzt geändert am 26. November 2019

Time and again, when it comes to flight waivers, I hear the argument: “The plane flies anyway with or without me.” I heard it for the first time at a parents’ evening, which was about the final ride in the tenth grade. Naples and Zinnowitz were available. Now the argument also appears in discussions of Scientist4Future, namely by scientists who do not fly themselves, who spend a large part of their lives with actions against airport expansion and aircraft noise. There has to be something about this argument. I think it doesn’t work and here’s why:

Infrastructure function of flights

Statement: If we do not use short-haul flights, this will be of no use, because the feeder flights have an infrastructure function and the airlines will continue to fly, so that their customers do not compete.

Answer: That is partly true. I also flew to Hong Kong via London. But there is much more air traffic to London than would be important for the feeder function. I talked to a concert-goer about common musical interests and she told me enthusiastically about XY, which unfortunately would only play in London this year. She therefore flew to the concert. The same holds for Paris.

Here are the flights British Airways offers to London:

British Airways Berlin-London flight for 16 Sep. 2019

The flights are partly at the same time, at times at a distance of 45 minutes. These are the flights of only one airline! (There are also two Eurowings services, seven from Easyjet and four from Ryanair) If flights were uneconomical, the airlines would join forces, as has already happened with the Star Alliance, Sky Team and OneWorld Allience.

And there are examples of airline bankruptcy because of inefficiency. There are no longer connections from Berlin to Hamburg because there is a very fast ICE connection. Working through my flights, I found tickets from 1994. I flew to Helsinki via Hamburg. Madness. into the plane, up, down, waited a bit until the Hamburgers had got off and boarded, then on. Today you can still fly there, but then you fly via Stuttgart or Cologne:

Query for flights Berlin-Hamburg on 16.09.2019

In 2015, four airlines suspended flights to Russia due to a lack of profitability. So there are examples.

Start/Land lots would be used differently

Statement: The slots are very valuable for the airlines. If they cease a route, they would lose the slot, so they “would rather fly popcorn around than give up the slot.”

Answer: Yes, airlines do. AirBerlin has been doing it for years. I have a colleague who bought a ticket Berlin-Salzburg for 3 € plus taxes. His flights were repeatedly cancelled. He then spent a night in the hotel, because the flight would have been too costly for the airline. It would have been so expensive that they preferred to pay the passengers one night at the hotel. In the end, AirBerlin went bust. Because of popcorn, so to speak.

It is true that if all short-haul flights were cancelled and there were long-haul flights in all slots instead, we would end up worse off. To do so, however, there would have to be growth in long-haul flights. The aviation industry is also predicting this. However, if we do not use short- and long-haul flights, voluntarily or because they are taxed at 180€/tonne of CO2, there will be no growth.

Parallel reasoning in other areas

If this argument were to work, then any change in consumer behavior would have to be pointless. In the same way, one could argue: “The chicken in the freezer was already dead. Therefore I can eat it. Otherwise someone else would eat it.” But the chicken is reared and slaughtered because there is a certain need in the population. As a farmer and as a wholesaler and as a retailer, you can estimate how many chickens you can bring to the man. If no one buys chickens, no more will be produced.

Example Sweden: Flygskam

In Sweden, the number of flights fell by 9% between March last year and this year. This shows that a social rethink can be successful.


“The plane would have flown anyway” does not work as an argument. We simply have to avoid flights whenever possible.

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