Debate: Will budget airfares become extinct?

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Flying might become ridiculously expensive due to new taxes and higher oil prices. That's the premise of a lively editorial in The Vancouver Sun yesterday. Here are the two main factors that have experts worried:

Problem one: Environmental damage. The writers say that governments may start taxing passengers heavily for flying on planes because planes contribute tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, destroying our ozone layer and presumably heating up our Earth's surface on average. Planes also leave trails of condensation in their wake, which trap heat on the Earth's surface. In reaction, this week the European Union (EU) told U.S. airlines to pay for their carbon emissions or lose flights to Europe by around 2012.

Problem two: Rising oil prices. Assuming that oil remains at $105 barrel, a survey by the International Air Transport Association predicts that airlines worldwide will lose nearly $30 billion this year —much higher than the post 9/11 loss of $11 billion worldwide. If oil prices don't drop, airlines may have to charge much higher airfares. By 2025, no more than 25 airports will be operational worldwide, predicts professor Anthony Perl, only one of them in the Pacific Northwest. [Quoted by the Vancouver Sun]

This week, for example, Southwest, Continental, and American each announced plans to park some airplanes and reduce flights because of high oil prices, says the Dallas News. Meanwhile, United, US Airways, Continental, American, and Northwest slapped on fare increases at $20 per roundtrip ticket this week, reports Rick Seaney of the fare-tracking website While small, these fare increases come on top of a long stretch of similar fare increases.

Many readers commented on our earlier blog post, "Should you pay more to fly?" But this editorial sparks a different question: Do you worry that air travel may become out of reach for budget travelers?

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