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Trends in air travel inequality in the UK: From the few to the many?

07 July, 2021

Trends in air travel inequality in the UK: From the few to the many?

Milena Buchs

Giulio Mattioli

Research paper   Transport & Mobility

Milena Buchs and Giulio Mattioli


Aviation is responsible for at least 3.5% of global warming, and demand is predicted to rise rapidly over the next few decades. To reverse this trend, air travel demand will need to be managed. An important question is: ‘who would be affected by air travel demand reduction policies’? The answer to that question largely depends on who is participating in air travel, and how unequally it is distributed. Existing analysis suggests that participation in air travel in the UK is highly unequal and driven by richer, highly educated and urban households. However, so far little is known about how these patterns of inequality have changed over time – has air travel participation increased among low income households, e.g. due to the rise of low-cost carriers and ‘normalisation’ of air travel as a social practice? Would these groups therefore now be more affected by flight taxes or frequent flyer levies? To address these questions, this paper examines trends in air travel inequality between 2001 and 2018 in the UK based on two representative surveys, providing the first micro-level analysis of air travel inequality over time for this country. We find that while disadvantaged groups have contributed to the expansion of air travel over the past two decades, they remain far less likely to be affected by air travel demand management policies because air travel inequality is still at a very high level. These findings challenge common discourses that present air travel as a widespread norm, and demand management policies as socially unfair.

Publication details

Büchs, M and Mattioli, G. 2021. Trends in air travel inequality in the UK: From the few to the many? Travel Behaviour and Society, 25: 92–101. doi: Opens in a new tab10.1016/j.tbs.2021.05.008Opens in a new tab 

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