David Beckham, former soccer player and all-around hero in the UK, recently got lampooned in the Daily Mail for taking a reported 30 first-class flights in 2018. As the Mail put it, Beckham – a rich man – was hypocritical for taking the flights “despite campaigning against climate change.” The criticism of Beckham followed similar accusations aimed at actress Emma Thompson, who has been a vocal campaigner on green issues.

Without getting bogged down in the issues of celebrities flying – and there are plenty of holes in the Mail’s argument – the underlying issue of flying first class does raise some important points. Estimates vary, but it is argued that flying first class leaves up to a four times bigger carbon footprint. Beckham, for example, was accused of using up approximately 80,000 KG of C02, as opposed to the 20,000 tonnes in economy class. The figures are estimated on the amount of room given to a first-class seat on the plane.

Carbon off-setting programs becoming popular

Clearly, it’s a contentious issue, and seemingly a growing one when it comes to media coverage. To be fair, some frequent-flyer celebrities, such as Emma Watson, have been arguing the case that they offset their carbon footprints in other ways, notably by paying charities like Climate Care a monetary sum, with the charity, in turn, using the money to reduce carbon elsewhere.

The scrutiny of how wealth is spent is obviously not a new thing, but there has been a kind of wind-change in recent times, perhaps fuelled by the ‘viral’ nature of social media. Everything is captured, recorded, shared, and discussed faster than ever before. Everyone from England soccer star Raheem Sterling to Kim Kardashian has received criticism for ‘flaunting’ wealth online – as the critics put it – at the wrong time.

So, what is the end game here? You expect to get something in return for your money when you spend more of it than the next person: High rollers expect 24/7 rewards and experiences; Michelin star restaurants will expect you to pay for their craft and hard work; somebody has to be courtside on a basketball game. Should a flight not be the same if you are willing to spend the money?

Arguments can be made for expensive tickets

Obviously, there are ethical questions when it comes to spending money. As the world grows richer, there are inevitably going to be issues raised about how that wealth is shared. But we know that there are other benefits to spending large sums of money. For example, if David Beckham buys a $20,000 ticket from British Airways, does it follow that it will allow BA to keep fares lower for economy passengers? Of course, it does.

Certainly, the fact that it makes it cheaper to fly for other people doesn’t do much to address the issue of flying and climate change. News outlets are obsessed with the idea of hypocrisy when it comes to climate change, and that includes left-wing publications like the Huffington Post and the Guardian. Indeed, it’s not only celebrities who are a target, but it’s also the academics and scientists who jet around the world to speak about climate change who come in for criticism.

traveling first class

The pertinent question, then: Will we all be scorned to such an extent that taking a first-class flight is no longer an option? It seems really unlikely. Moreover, you would imagine that rather than a radical overhaul, there will be more solutions in the vein of the carbon off-setting programs mentioned above.