Travelers have been complaining for years about being nickle-and-dimed by the airline industry, but it turns out there’s one thing they don’t mind paying a bit more for. 

Man in a suit looks at an airplane preparing for a flight.
A recent study indicates that travelers are willing to pay more for carbon offsets. Image © guvendemir/Getty Images

According to recent research, passengers are willing to pony up extra cash for flights, as long as the money is going toward carbon offsets – and the word “tax” doesn’t appear anywhere in the mix. And they’re even more enthusiastic if they know that the oil magnates are paying too. 

“We wanted to gauge consumers’ reaction to a $14 carbon fee that was presented to them in several different ways at the time of a hypothetical ticket purchase,” study co-author Alec Beall explained to the business school’s Insights page. “The dollar amount of the charge was the same, but it was described as either a ‘carbon offset’ or a ‘tax,’ for either ‘aviation fuel production and import’ or ‘airplane travel.’”

A polar bear and cub walk on ice floe in Norwegian arctic waters in Svalbard.
According to the study's authors, emissions from air travel are set to increase exponentially in the coming years. Image © FloridaStock/Shutterstock

The results were overwhelming. The study – conducted by Vancouver’s University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business, in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund, and published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology – surveyed more than 1800 U.S. participants, and the majority opted for a flight with a carbon fee tacked on, as long as it was labeled as a “carbon offset for aviation fuel production and import” and not a “carbon tax for airplane travel.” They even picked a more expensive ticket overall, choosing to pay the price of the offset rather than buying a fare without that $14 fee attached. 

Man at a climate change protest holds sign saying, "The climate is changing. Why aren't we?"
Climate-change protests are sweeping the globe. Image © Nicole S Glass/Shutterstock

This response bodes well for the airline industry, the study’s authors say: Emissions from air travel look set to triple in the next few decades without government intervention, but carriers could take control of the situation simply by bundling the cost of carbon offsets into the overall ticket price, and wording the fine print carefully. 

“People have the perception that the oil companies are the ones responsible for climate change, or at least more responsible than they are,” study co-author David Hardisty told UBC’s Insights. “Consumers are more supportive of carbon pricing if it’s directed at the fossil fuel producers and importers than if it’s directed at consumers.”

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