Saturday, 6 December 2008

Ghost Flights: Are They Still Around?

I took a number of internal flights in the states with Delta, South West and Jet Blue last year to prevent long Greyhound bus journeys and because the difference in price was marginal. A flight from Las Vegas to San Francisco only cost me $30 more than the equivalent bus ride, which left me asking why are more people not flying. The only advantage of the Greyhound buses I can see is that the terminals are in the centre of town reducing transfer fees from out of town airports. Anyway, I was surprised to see that many of my internal flights were half empty and we were able to spread out across entire rows.

The term for this phenomenon is “ghost flight”. Now there is nothing spooky about a ghost flight as the name may suggest, but in recent years they have sparked anger from environmentalists and in the past week have irritated people stranded in Bangkok where flights are taking off without passengers. It is estimated that if a Boeing 747 flew from London to Chicago, London to Hong Kong and then London to Australia, it would emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as 300 motorists do in a year. This is clearly an unacceptable statistic and as a consequence the Aviation Environmental Federation stepped in late last year. They enforced an environmental tax of up to £80 per available ticket rather than a flat rate per aircraft. In my opinion this was a brilliant move and a great incentive for airlines to fill their seats and reduce half filled flights.

From what I can see, America’s problem stems from budget airlines being run like buses. Although passengers are sometimes asked to spill over to later flights if theirs is not full, it is more often the case that the flight goes half empty perhaps to retain good customer relations in a competitive market. Airlines will have to fill seats and merge flights but also balance this with keeping customers loyal to their service.

As I do not fly internally on budget airlines often, I invite you to leave some comments as to whether you have seen a reduction in the number of ghost flights over the past year as a result of this new taxing policy.



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