Airplane Mode

In October 2015, the UK introduced a 5p tax on single use plastic carrier bags. You know, those flimsy things which will just about get your supermarket shopping home, before they fall apart? 5p is, pretty much, a nickel. Next to nothing.

The cost wasn’t the problem, but it highlighted the issue to people, and use of these bags pretty much dried up overnight.

The aim, of course, was that we should reduce our use of plastic. The law with this type of bag was, as I say, highly effective. But there is data now showing that sales of so-called bags for life has leapt. A bag for life is stronger, sturdier, and of course, uses more plastic than a single-use bag. Many supermarkets here will not discuss the numbers (presumably out of embarrassment) but others show a sharp increase. 5p is nothing, but for some people, neither is 50p for a bag for life.

So the law has only partially had the desired effect overall, but just in terms of those single-use carriers, really hit the sweet spot.

I’m kinda minded of this when I think about using taxes to try and change people’s behaviour. I’m generally quite against it, because it brings people’s income into the equation. For some people, they live on a budget so can’t really afford the extra outlay, even 10p or 20p, just on plastic bags. For others, the cost is negligible, so it doesn’t matter to them. So, a tax doesn’t hit everybody equally. But, there is no denying that it worked, just in terms of our society using fewer single-use plastic bags.

That story is interesting (well, it made me prick up my ears) because the UK is in General Election mode at the moment. Most of the progressive parties want us to fly less, just to reduce our fossil-fuel consumption.

I must admit I am part-cynical about this. Cynical is probably the wrong word. But I notice that in the UK a lot of effort is spent telling individuals that they need to tighten up, and yet subsidies for coal-fired power stations are at a high, and that our carbon dioxide emissions are increasing, despite all individuals’ efforts. So I think individuals, just individuals, are doing a pretty good job. But I, for one, am happy to take on the notion that I should fly less.

The Liberals suggested a tax, which I found quite complicated. The basic thrust was that anybody taking more than three long-haul flights per year would pay a tax. I don’t know what that tax is, might be tens, might be hundreds, might be thousands. And, I’m paraphrasing here – for a start, presumably they mean three roundtrips.

The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that, to work this out, you’d need some intelligence. A register with every flyer’s name on it, plus a count of the number of trips they have taken. Okay, all of this is do-able, but it means some new IT system. Government IT systems equal millions and years. So, yes, it is do-able, but it is a faff.

My solution? Well, the Liberals are way too complex for me. Bear in mind that we already pay a tax when we fly, it is taken when we buy the ticket. Me? I’d just set that tax at $1000. Per flight. Long haul, short haul, I’m not fussed.

And bearing in mind that my goal here is to reduce bums on seats. If $1000 didn’t work, I’d try again at $10,000. Make people really believe that their two weeks for that holiday on a beach in Greece really is the holiday of a lifetime.

Luxembourg (1996)

(Using a different flag today because the title is so similar to the last post.)

My first trip to Lux was in 1995, and I wrote about it here. I enjoyed the first trip so much that I went back just a year later. I was in a new job, in a more senior role, which was probably just as well. This time, I had a longer break, and flew to Paris, where I picked up a rental car. I would’ve only have been driving for a year and this was probably my first rental. I drove from Paris all the way to Luxembourg (about 4 hours) – I think that because I hadn’t been driving long, I was surprised when that short line on the map took far longer in reality. I arrived late in Luxembourg – I’d enjoyed my hotel the first time around so stayed in the same place this time around.

With wheels, my range increased and I enjoyed a lot more of Luxembourg. I had several days to see what was a very green country, forests (Luxembourg is essentially in the middle of the Black Forest, or Schwarzwald) with lots of cultivated fields and agriculture. North-east of my hotel, I found the beautiful town of Echternach, right on the border with Germany. Very picture-postcard, very medieval, very Germanic, this town was even more pleasant than Luxembourg Ville. I made a mental note.


Echternach lies on the River Sûre, and in fact the river forms many miles of the border between Luxembourg and Germany. There was significant fighting here as the allies advanced in 1945, and of course many readers will recognise Bastogne in the map above.

On the Sunday I again underestimated my distances, and drove up to Spa, in Belgium (off map), to watch the grand prix. My only grand prix – it was very loud, very expensive, and you get a much better view on tv. But all sporting events are better on tv, I find. It’s nice to watch something live because of the atmosphere, but you’ll get a better view in your armchair. Even then, though, I had only a passing interest in motorsport (non-existent now) so was satisfied with just this once – I can say I’ve done it, but the experience got it out of my system and I was never even the slightest bit interested in going to another.

Tired after the drive, I got back to the hotel, only to be greeted by the sound of the Rolling Stones, who were playing a concert in the next valley (it seemed like the next room!). No thank you. I can barely stand them at the best of times, certainly not at the end of a long and tiring day.

The next day was my last. Back to Paris, hookup with a friend, then flying home the day after. At least, that was the plan. But I hadn’t counted on…friction (lack of)!

I was about to step into the shower. It was a good, powerful shower, exactly what you’d expect in a five-star hotel, and I remember thinking That might be slippery, I must be careful.

And so began my acquaintance with the Luxerbourg Health Service! I remained conscious, complete with dislocated shoulder, and with the help of the concierge, managed to get some trousers on. The concierge got a taxi for me, and I ended up in the Clinique Sacré-Coeur.

Of all the things to remember, I met an Irish guy there who was coming in to have his ingrowing toenail sorted… just before I passed out.

When I came to, I was in a hospital bed. My shoulder was very sore but at least now looked like everything was where it should be. After resting for a few hours, they discharged me later that day.

Obviously my hookup in Paris wasn’t going to happen, as I rested up for the night still in lots of pain. The hotel were happy for me to stay the extra night, though helpful as they were, they made sure they still charged me for it. I suppose I should not have expected any favours, anyway. Although I cancelled my night out, I didn’t wish to cancel my flight, which was the following afternoon, so the next day, the day after I dislocated my shoulder, I found myself driving back along the autoroute to Charles de Gaulle airport.

I suppose when I wonder now whether I could drive one-handed, there is my answer! In fact, I have often thought that just getting hold of a left-hand-drive car, especially an automatic, would solve my problems altogether. Anyway, on arrival at Charles de Gaulle, finally some good news – the airline check-in staff had taken pity on my sling and upgraded me to Business! The only time it has happened in my life. For a 40-minute flight 🙂.

At least in the UK I was on home soil, though driving (right-hand drive) was near impossible and I must’ve driven all the way back home (Oxford) in fifth gear.

Work the next day – well, obviously there was no work the next day! In fact I was off the whole week waiting for the pain to ease, and still wasn’t properly recovered when I did go back. That was, I suppose, lucky in that for that short time, I could get away with just being in telephone contact with them. There was politics going on at the time anyway, so it was as well I was out of the way.

Not quite the end of the story. A full nine months later, onto my mat dropped a bill from the hospital in Lux! €300. About $300, give or take. In theory, we are all EU so I should have been covered, but there was some form-filling I’d have needed to do, and in the state I arrived at hospital… I realised, of course, that it was purely speculative, I had since moved so it only got to me because my mail had been redirected, they had no idea where I was now, but at the time I’d needed them, they were there, I felt like I owed them so I coughed up.