Priti vs. the plane people

That whining noise coming from the sky isn’t jet engines. It’s airline bosses howling their rage and fear.

The object of their passion is the imminent start of 14-day quarantine periods for everyone arriving in the UK.

The move will kill air travel says Airlines UK, the plane operators’ trade body.

Quarantine will “completely shut off the UK from the rest of the world,” said its Chief Executive, who evidently has a rather shaky grasp on how long a fortnight lasts.

Quarantine won’t completely kill air travel. People will put up with it if their journeys are truly so important.

What it will do, of course, is put a massive crimp in UK air travel. Some passengers will come back when quarantine is lifted but some will be lost forever.

“… prior to the crisis, the general expectation was that the aviation industry would continue to grow at annual rates of about 3%, implying aggregate expansion of around 90% by 2040.”

Tim Morgan. The Surplus Energy Economics Blog

Dream on, Branson and Co.

It won’t only be residual fears of contagion keeping people away. For many, the whole experience of air travel was already borderline shitty enough to walk away from, especially amid the coming post pandemic depression.

Airlines were already reaching the limits of what people will put up with and still pay to fly. The added pre-flight and onboard delays and discomforts caused by corona measures will drive still more people away, even without the prospect of having to isolate.

You wouldn’t want to be the government minister condemned to take intense flak from all sides over quarantine. Which makes Priti “no one likes me and I don’t care” Patel the worst possible adversary from the travel industry’s point of view.

Patel probably does possess a neck brassy enough to sustain the quarantine policy through, say, three reviews (nine weeks) before lifting it. Long enough to break some people of the habit of thinking of flying as a somehow essential or expected part of life.

Mass air travel is not essential. Much of it is entirely discretionary and easily substituted with other activities.

It also burns up a lot of imported energy that could be used for more productive purposes than shipping people to and from faraway beaches.

As the “energy cost” of extracting energy from fossil sources and “replaceables” rises, the surplus energy left over to make ourselves wealthy declines.

The surplus is still big. But as they say, it’s not that big any more.

Discretionary aviation expanded during the period when energy surpluses were immense. When it made economic sense to keep the global consumer demand pot boiling with compulsive travel since people in the developed world were already drowning in physical stuff.

No longer. Declining surplus energy is slowly but inexorably eroding actual wealth. Airlines maintained a facade of viability with debt and by crappifying their service. But their business kept on going slowly downhill until SARS-Cov-22 kicked it all the way to the bottom..

“As and when the virus recedes, most households are likely to have experienced a draining of their savings, an increase in their debts and a meaningful reduction in their incomes. To health-related fears will have been added a new financial conservatism, reflected in a reduced propensity to engage in discretionary (non-essential) purchases.”

Tim Morgan. The Surplus Energy Economics Blog

There’s no reason to assume mass aviation will prove a permanent feature of modern life.

It’s been a flashy decoration on the icing on the cake of high-energy industrial civilisation. But when push comes to shove people, if forced by circumstances to choose, will give up the icing before the cake.