Environment

Yes, Rishi Sunak has made domestic flights cheaper just before COP26

With just days to go until the world's biggest climate conference, Rishi Sunak has used his Budget speech to make domestic UK flights cheaper.

Domestic flights in the UK will be cheaper thanks to a cut to air passenger duty. Image: Anna Zvereva

The UK government has announced a cut to domestic air passenger duty just days before the start of COP26, where its ministers will spend two weeks persuading other countries to cut their carbon emissions.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the move as part of his Budget speech, outlining an increase to air passenger duty for long-haul flights, but a cut to the tax  on some UK domestic flights. 

The government has said the move will boost local airports and “bring people together across the UK”, but the irony wasn’t lost on Twitter users, who were perplexed by the announcement with just days until the global climate conference begins. 

The cut will see the flat-rate tax on departures between Northern Ireland and England, Wales or Scotland reduced by around £26. Some travel to the Scottish Highlands and Islands will also be reduced. 

For business travellers, the fare between Northern Ireland and the other UK countries will fall by around £52.

Environmental campaigners have long raised concerns over the low cost of domestic flights when compared to train travel, pushing some people to take carbon-intensive flights around the UK rather than travel by train. 

At the time of writing, a one-way flight from London to Glasgow to get to COP26 on November 1 costs just £30. A one-way train ticket costs between £80-£100.

According to research by consumer organisation Which, domestic flights in the UK are around 50% cheaper than taking the train, but produces around six times the amount of CO2.

While the UK is making domestic flights cheaper, other countries have begun limiting flights within their borders. 

In France, flights lasting under 2.5 hours have been banned, while other domestic flights have been reduced by around 40 per cent. 

Austria has also banned domestic flying under certain distances, while Belgium and the Netherlands have been in discussions over limiting or banning short-haul flights. 

Air passenger duty is paid by airlines, who often pass on the costs to customers in ticket prices.

Currently, it’s charged in two bands: the first for destinations under 2,000 miles and the second for destinations above 2,000 miles, with business class passengers paying more. 

Luke Murphy, head of the IPPR Environmental Justice Commission, said:

“Today the Chancellor declared the UK was entering an ‘age of optimism’ but instead he used the budget to extend the ages of fossil fuels.

“Cutting air passenger duty was the most significant new policy mentioned in the budget speech today which will have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions – and it will increase them. Rishi Sunak talked for longer about beer duty, than our duty to future generations to address the climate and nature crises.”

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