The end of budget flights? France pushes for minimum ticket prices in Europe

The end of budget flights? France pushes for minimum ticket prices in Europe
Credit: Belga/Hatim Kaghat

In a effort to clamp down on highly polluting low-cost flights France is proposing to introduce minimum prices for aeroplane tickets throughout Europe and has found support from Belgium, among others. But critics question whether the measure is not just symbolic.

French Transport Minister Clément Beaune aired the idea of imposing a floor on ticket prices at an informal meeting of EU Transport Ministers in Barcelona this week. While the topic is not formally on the agenda, it is sure to become a topic of discussion behind the scenes.

"Plane tickets for €10 while we are in the middle of an ecological transition, that is no longer possible. That does not reflect the price for our planet," Beaune said in an interview with L'Obs magazine last month.

Beaune hopes to introduce minimum prices and "open the debate" at the European level "on what constitutes a socially and environmentally fair price for an airline ticket" to reduce the impact of aviation on climate change, he told Reuters ahead of the meeting.

No tenfold increase

Whilst Beaune acknowledged that the proposal would protect Air France from competition from low-cost carriers (making it vulnerable to accusations of state aid, which contravenes EU competition law), Belgium has affirmed that it would support such a policy. "The proposal is of course interesting. I will certainly discuss with him and my other European colleagues how we can make progress on this issue," Belgian Mobility Minister Georges Gilkinet told De Standaard.

The idea has also had the nod from the Netherlands (where Climate Minister Rob Jetten proposed setting it at €34) and Luxembourg. Austria's government is working on a bill to set the minimum price for an airline ticket at €40.

But many are wondering if these proposals are not just symbolic gestures. In particular, there is debate as to whether the suggested minimum prices are high enough to have a serious effect. Beaune has not fixed a figure for the minimum price and said that he "doesn't want to see ticket prices increase tenfold either."

"There are people who take a plane once in their life and who do not have a lot of money – it is also a freedom, a way of travelling that should not be reserved only for the rich."

Credit: Belga

Still, the proposals of €34 or €40 would have a limited effect as price monitors have shown that barely any tickets are being sold at prices under €50 in recent months. This is partly due to high oil prices and high post-pandemic demand, which are causing ticket prices to rise even faster than inflation: the average aeroplane ticket in Europe this summer was 30% more expensive than in 2022.

"Since the Covid-19 crisis, the really cheap flights have actually become a thing of the past," aviation economist Joris Melkert told Dutch radio station BNR. In addition to high fuel costs, Melkert explained that the European measures to make airlines pay more for their emissions (under the Emissions Trading Scheme) and encourage (more expensive) renewable fuels are making tickets more expensive.

Even Michael O'Leary, CEO of low-cost carrier Ryanair, recently told reporters that the time of tickets for less than €20 or even €10 is over. The flight tax on short flights that Belgium introduced is also already putting a floor under ticket prices, Gilkinet pointed out.

Related News

While France will seek support from other EU Member States, it is unsure whether the country will find enough allies. Italy, for example, plans to do just the opposite and wants to impose a ceiling. With island nations relying on air transport and EU countries and regions whose tourism sectors are buoyed by low-cost flights, it is unsure whether the proposal will find sufficient support.

Others question the legality of such a price floor; the umbrella organisation of European airlines, Airlines4Europe, pointed out that such a minimum price goes against European legislation from 2008 that gives airlines the freedom to set their ticket prices themselves.

This legislation is also the reason why the Austrian plans were met with opposition from the European Commission.

Copyright © 2024 The Brussels Times. All Rights Reserved.