Do 15% of people take 70% of flights?

25 November 2016
What was claimed

70% of all flights / all international flights by UK residents are taken by just 15% of the population.

Our verdict

70% of all flights in Great Britain were taken by 15% of adults according to analysis of a 2014 government survey.

“An estimated 70 per cent of all flights in 2013 were taken by just 15 per cent of the population, with 57 per cent of the population taking no flights abroad”

 Motion sponsored by Caroline Lucas MP and others, 19 October 2016

“Just 15% of people in the UK take 70% of international flights. So everyone must pay for the holidays taken by the better off”

 Ken Loach, 27 October 2016

This is a reasonable estimate from the data we have, but it refers to all flights, not just international ones. It comes from analysis of government survey data from 2014 by campaigners for a frequent flyer levy.

In March 2014 the survey asked a random selection of 1,000 adults in Great Britain how many trips by plane they’d taken in the last 12 months. 52% hadn’t flown at all. 15% of people had flown three or more times and have been called ‘frequent flyers’.

One of the researchers shared their analysis with us. A more detailed breakdown of responses shows that those 15% of flyers made 70% of the total flights.

We asked the Department for Transport, which designed the survey, about this claim. It said a more precise estimate is that the 15% of adults in Great Britain who made 3 or more flights (our frequent fliers) made 71% of flights from March 2013 to March 2014. 

The same survey asked about what types of flights people had taken. 7% had flown domestically, 37% short-haul within Europe, and 18% long-distance. People could choose more than one option, so we can’t separate domestic flyers from international ones.

A bigger survey, The National Travel Survey, asks 18,000 people in England how many times they flew abroad in the last year. In 2015, it found 12% of people had flown three or more times. The figures are less detailed, so we can’t calculate the percentage of flights those people accounted for in the same way.

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