Are Frequent Fliers to Blame for Extreme Weather Delays? Should Fear of Climate Change Make Us Stop Flying? Are Frequent Fliers to Blame for Extreme Weather Delays? Should Fear of Climate Change Make Us Stop Flying?
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Are Frequent Fliers to Blame for Extreme Weather Delays? Should Fear of Climate Change Make Us Stop Flying?

by Alissa Walker

January 10, 2011


As I sat at the gate, finally on my way out of Newark, I stared out the window. The air was swirling with deicing fluid that made the tarmac blur into a dreamy mist and permeated the cabin with that familiar acrid smell. I felt the engines start to shudder beneath me, spewing super-heated jet fuel into a cushion of exhaust below. I looked up into the blue sky crisscrossed with puffy contrails and that's when saw them: My frequent flier miles, evaporating into the atmosphere, soon to fall back to Earth as the latest weirded-up, whacked-out weather system. I realized right then and there that I simply couldn't fly like this anymore.

My behavior up until now, brought on by this perfect storm of globalization and too-cheap, too-easy airfares, has a name: "binge-flying." So far, only England has taken steps to curb it by monitoring those throwaway fares and stopping airport expansion, and suggesting that airfares be increased to discourage additional flights. But what are we doing to be responsible travelers? On the ground, we may take public transit to the airport. Maybe a Prius cab. We might even buy some kind of overpriced carbon offset to make us feel better about our behavior. But no one ever gives up flying.

What if, as a frequent flier, I was penalized, not rewarded, for my jetsetting? I would get one blissful vacation per year at a standard fare rate, but anything above and beyond that, I would have to pay extra—maybe double, for fees that would perhaps be poured into high speed rail projects. Would it force me to choose only the events that are the most important for me to attend? Would it make businesses and conferences reconsider their practices for meetings and sharing information? Would something like this even deter people from air travel, or would we simply pay more for the privilege? 

I'm safe at home now, back in L.A. As I look at my neighborhood, littered with downed trees from severe high winds and evaporated hillsides that slid into the streets, I know that my travel habits have been forever changed. But I wonder about my fellow passengers and how the inconvenience impacted them. I heard so many people swearing they'll "never fly ______ airlines again" after their bad travel experiences. I keep thinking that maybe the extreme weather will make us think twice when clicking toward that next extreme low fare we spot on Orbitz. Or is it only a matter of time before our weather delays consistently rock our itineraries into such disarray that people will swear off all flying for good?

Top image by NASA; middle image by AccuWeather.com

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Are Frequent Fliers to Blame for Extreme Weather Delays? Should Fear of Climate Change Make Us Stop Flying?