Should frequent flyers be penalized with levies rather than rewarded with loyalty points?

At a major travel show in London this week, experts discussed how to decarbonize air travel, one of the biggest contributors to global carbon emissions.

Instead of frequent flyer programs that reward people the more they fly, the industry should replace them with a program that penalizes frequent flyers to make people think twice and fly less. At least that was one of the proposals heard at a global travel show in London this week, where industry leaders gathered to discuss the present -- and future -- state of travel.

At this year's World Travel Market London, climate change and travel dominated the conversation, in line with the growing chorus of worldwide alarm at the climate emergency. And while some speakers lay the burden of responsibility squarely on the travel industry, others pointed out that a small segment of the population should also do their part. 

During a session called "Decarbonizing Travel and Tourism: Is the Industry Doing Enough?" Justin Francis, CEO of Responsibletravel.com pointed out that one percent of the UK population is responsible for 20 percent of flights taken.

In the US, that figure rises sharply to 12 percent of Americans who are responsible for two-thirds of all flights taken. That averages out to 14 flights per person, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Francis proposes that the biggest offenders pay a fee that escalates the more flights they take per year. 

"We shouldn't gamble the future of the planet on the idea that a few more well-meaning travellers will fly less," commented Justin Francis, CEO of Responsibletravel.com, according to a WTM report. 

Over the last year, Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg has been credited with giving the fight against climate change renewed importance and mobilizing young people in asking world leaders to do more for the planet. The sense of urgency has also spilled over to the travel industry, popularizing the concept of flight shame. 

"We are overdependent on an old-fashioned, highly polluting form of transport," Francis said. "We need to fly less, but everything at World Travel Market here is about growth. We cannot be growing aviation the way we are. We need to fly less. And massively fund decarbonization." 

For perspective, he added that if aviation were a country, it would be the seventh largest carbon emitting country on earth, behind Germany. 

Added Jane Ashton, director of sustainability at TUI Group travel agency: "If we wait for consumers to take action then we will be waiting a long time. There's a lot of chatter but people aren't going to forgo their annual holiday," she said. 

"The onus is on us in the industry to make that holiday as sustainable as possible. And the onus is on governments to create the frameworks within which companies can take responsible action."