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  • Richard Cook

Flybe, PR and the Planet

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Flybe is in the news this week because the UK Domestic Airline is asking for Government money to prop it up. And they are going to get it, which is a perfect example of why humanity is doomed and the earth is destined to be a toxic uninhabitable ball sooner than it needs to be.


According to a quick Google search, the aviation industry is responsible for about 5% of all human-based climate change. That’s a lot. 5% less global warming? Yes, please.

The frustrating thing is that so much of it is totally unnecessary. The drive for profit and increased market share has unleashed a special kind of madness in the airline industry where natural resources and the environment are destroyed in the name of shareholder value. PR and Marketing departments are complicit and, in certain circumstances, driving initiatives that are actively encouraging the insanity and covering up the sins of this industry.


I love flying. Just for the sheer weirdness of it. I live in London and therefore Heathrow T5 is a haven of British Airways comfort and opulence. The class system of tier points and cabin position redefines what would be a pretty miserable experience of being stuck in a crowded warehouse full of strangers, before being crammed into a tin can full of other strangers, into a game of one-upmanship. Those who fly frequently enough to miss their own family birthdays are welcomed into clubs that serve eggs and alcohol of differing quality, depending on how much money they spend. And everyone in the cheap seats pretends they don’t care, and everyone in the expensive seats pretends that they don’t notice, because to reveal that they did feel privileged and special would give away the fact that they are not.


But let’s talk about the sins of the industry. Last week, a friend whose partner works as cabin-crew suggested that I may want to be put on their friends and family concessions list. I was told: “It’s totally illegal but you can pay us a small monthly rent to be on our list as friends and family and then you can book whatever you want. All the crew does it, it helps to top up their wages. BA turns a blind eye.”


Think about that for a second.


Here is a business whose staff are famously underpaid and on strike often. It is offering a perk that it allegedly knows is being abused. This abuse means that the airline doesn’t pay tax or National Insurance on the income that it would have to pay its staff, and its staff get a wage packet topped up with whatever they can get their friends and family to cough up. All the while, Joanna Lumley is asking passengers to dig deep to help "children living incredibly difficult lives". If only the Government had that National Insurance revenue to spend on those kids, hey Jo? Wouldn’t that be Absolutely Fabulous?


Another sin was highlighted by Flybe’s problem this week. Apparently, airlines pay fees to be able to land in airports and have to use these slots or risk losing them, leading to a whole bunch of ghost planes burning up the Ozone just in case the route gets busy in the future. The fact that BA offers passengers to offset their carbon emissions by donating to plant a tree when making a booking is a perfect example of greenwashing as I can think of. How many trees have ever been planted through this fund?


Marketing people have a lot to answer for and are not being held accountable. An example of this is the tier point system which gives different privileges to passengers who fly more frequently. My own is about to renew as it does each year and I am a few points of being upgraded to the next tier. The app tells me I am 140 points away, in fact suggesting that I might want to jump on a plane to get these extra points. And indeed, there are websites dedicated to helping maximise tier point runs. And we clearly fall for it. The online forms are vibrant communities of people sharing stories of how they gamed the system with open jaw return routes in and out of destinations they didn’t want to go to in order to be called gold instead of silver. It seems the majority of tier point runs involve landing in an airport and getting back on a plane. Pointless but for the points, which are the only point.


These are three examples of things airlines do, which could if changed, significantly reduce the negative impact of the aviation industry. These energy-saving, cost-saving tips don’t require innovations in cleantech, or AI or any other emerging technology. They just need marketing and PR people to have the guts to say what their real objectives should be – to protect the businesses they work from – in some cases from themselves. A bit of common sense and integrity would go a long way, involve very little sacrifice. BA really could take a stand to show it is the world’s favourite airline. It just needs to care enough.

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