(Image: AAP/Bianca De Marchi)

“Qantas flags $19 Sydney to Melbourne Jetstar flights.”

Well great, thanks Qantas.

The flying kangaroo is limping along the ground at the moment, running at 5% of capacity, as are most airlines. There is talk of $89 flights to Perth, but I won’t be taking one, no matter how much they pay me.

The push is to get people flying again, of course. To which the obvious question and riposte is: FFS, why? Well, we know why, but let’s take a step back and make the obvious points never made.  

We have been hit with a national and global pandemic with no vaccine for it in sight, and a highly elastic reproduction rate which hovers around exponential spread. Through extraordinary measures and a huge amount of public solidarity, we have avoided the carnage seen elsewhere.

Maintaining that success will only occur if we rebuild slowly outwards from our current levels of activity, in a testable and reversible manner. That would suggest starting to think differently about a whole range of basic activities.

Offering loss-leader airfares to return air travel to previous volumes would appear to be the single worst thing we could do coming out of this.

Nothing indicates how visible the contradictions between the maintenance of capitalism and life now are than the rush to get flying again.

The notion of stimulating demand for flights renders clear the degree to which our economy is based on an artificially maintained level of service activities, to replace the industrial production and necessary labour which once lay at its core.

Such relentless priming has never been sustainable, and many of the corporations dependent upon it have been on life support since 2008. Many are now hoping that the jumpstart out of the lockdown will offer another round of free money, like the decade-long QE boondoggle, which is why everyone and their auntie is lining up to buy what’s left of Virgin Australia.

Restarting airlines is the most symbolic and high-volume activity around, and by that token, the single most disastrous thing we could do. 

Prior to the advent of coronavirus, it was clear that flying was going to have to be addressed as an issue due to climate change.

Though it creates only 3% of global emissions, the amount per passenger is huge, as much as those in the undeveloped part of the global south expend in a year. The notion of “offsets” is problematic and complex at the very least.

And before this thing hit, the global airline industry was looking at an eightfold growth over the next quarter century. Sorry, folks your take off has been delayed. 

Flight’s contribution to climate change is a slow-burn; to a potential second or third wave of the virus, a possible immediate lethality.

The smart thing to do would be to use the proximate crisis to address the distant one, and to recategorise flying entirely — rebuilding the industry from real demand outwards and setting prices in a manner that are affordable for necessary travel, but not loss-leaders that stimulate absurd and unnecessary jaunts (like kwikbux returns to Perth to bump up frequent flyer points, which is one thing the industry will surely be relying on to rebuild passenger numbers).

That’s particularly so as regards business travel, a vast amount of which is utterly unnecessary and which we now know — as we always did — could be replaced by teleconferencing.

The government should offer tax breaks to companies willing to make a full jump to such. (If only we had a properly invested in a national broadband network. Has anyone suggested that?)

Everyone knows what bulldust most business travel is, a mix of tedious summoning and excuses to get out of town for a while. The same could be done for tourism and holidays by investing in and promoting local destinations.

A lot of the “flying to resort X” was simply a novelty that began in the ’60s and ’70s and became a need. The current interruption offers a chance to question and/or dismantle many of the habits picked up in the Keynesian years, and then in our long boom. 

That would mean restructuring parts of the economy in significant ways of course, taking whole sectors out of the commodity relationship. Labor could have made this proposition if it had done any work in the past about how we might live differently.

But it got on the “growth at all social costs” red eye and to do so now would look gimmicky.

So the moment will be missed, unless there is a very nasty revival of COVID-19 — or if a COVID-22 comes along with a much nastier punch. At that point, that restructuring will have to take place.

Nothing more likely to help that along than filling the skies and destroying the regional social distancing we have done so much to build up.

Capitalism v life takes off again.

Is Australia flirting too early with an end to lockdowns? Send your thoughts to [email protected]. Please include your full name if you would like to be considered for publication.