A Football Star’s Marie Antoinette Moment & An Uprising Against Private Jets

Calls for ban on private jets as celebrities’ flying habits exposed. But could they be a testing ground for green aviation instead?

In a packed press room, 22-year-old soccer superstar Kylian Mbappe had his very own Marie Antoinette moment in the climate crisis age. Asked why his Paris Saint-Germain team flew to their midweek match against Nantes – just 2 hours away by train – Mr Mbappe burst out laughing. He might as well have said “let them eat cake.” He was not ashamed; he was proud. Was this the pinnacle of environmental injustice?

Of course, Mr. Mbappe is just a young man living his dream. In a world where ostentatious displays of wealth are glamorized on social media, he is not alone either. Taylor Swift, Kylie Jenner, Elon Musk. They are all together.

For a long time, the stars have gotten away with it. But in the summer of 2022, something changed. @CelebJets, an automated Twitter account that tracks flights, began revealing celebrities’ private jet usage. Kylie Jenner, the reality TV star, was branded a climate criminal after the site showed her private jet taking a flight of just 17 minutes in July.

In a boiling hot summer, these private flights – 10 times more polluting than commercial flights, according to T&E’s 2021 analysis – had become unpalatable. History was everywhere.

From Le Monde to New York Times, T&E’s study was cited across the globe. An outraged public called for a ban on private jets.

But behind all the headlines, a deeper debate hid. An outright ban – promoted by many – is unrealistic in the world we live in today. But what if private jets could be used as a testing ground for green aviation? Electric planes are ideal for short island hopping and intercity trips – which seems to be what the mega-rich use them for – while the super-rich are well off enough to invest early in green jet fuels like e-kerosene, which are currently expensive.

Why not impose a ticket and fuel tax on all private planes departing from Europe? The money raised can then be used to fund greener alternatives, and by 2030 only green private planes should be allowed in the skies. T&E calculated that two such taxes in France could raise €660 million by 2030.

In Italy, a tax has existed since 2012. The luxury taxis are charged to passengers arriving to and departing from an Italian airport on board an executive air charter flight. Passengers pay €10 for stages of less than 100 km, €100 for a distance of less than 1,500 km and €200 for any longer journey. A fair price is up for debate, but the message is clear: you can’t pollute for free like the world isn’t on fire.

After this tumultuous summer, the French transport minister has brought this to the European decision-making table. At an upcoming meeting of EU transport ministers, we can expect some colorful exchanges: ban them? Treasure them? Keep calm and carry on?

Beating the rich and famous is easy, and it shouldn’t detract from the fact that we need to fly less and that we need to switch to green jet fuels as soon as possible. But those at the top must lead by example. Otherwise, they may find themselves on the wrong side of a revolution.

Originally published on Transport & Environment.


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