Cheap air travel and freedom of movement within the EU are bound up with the violent policing of its borders
The popular European low cost airline easyJet recently launched an ad campaign titled Generation easyJet. The ads use the rhetoric of flexibility, impulse, and fun to describe their brand of no-frills travel. “Happy, spinning, clapping, laughing, dancing, in the blackness of magic,” sings a cheery male voice while a montage of feet tap along. “Get it, have it, bag it, throw yourself on the aeroplane and fly like magic,” he continues, as various couples are reunited in a characterful yet unplaceable café.
To save money on airport fees, easyJet operate a tightly scheduled back-to-back service from the outskirts of cities, flying early in the morning or late at night. Checked baggage and airport check in offered by old-school airlines as standard are taken away and sold back to you by easyJet as added extras. There is a charge for the privilege of paying by credit card, and a fine if you forget to print your boarding pass or have a cabin bag that is slightly too big. Staff at easyJet must adopt the “orange spirit,” and have their own Generation easyJet epithets such as “the always-ready-to-help generation.”
The profits of the aviation industry are protected by the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation, an international agreement that there would be no tax on fuel for commercial aviation. Compared to the high fuel taxes levied against other modes of transport, this is effectively a subsidy. The tax ban facilitates the cheap fares that mean European travellers are able to do “more of the things they love,” and allows easyJet to operate a low-yield business model with a basic profit of only £8 per seat as more people can afford to fly more often. EasyJet’s conscience is clear; the economy of cheap holidays supports not only the tourist industries in the places they fly to, but also the airports and airlines themselves, which employ thousands of staff from retail assistants to pilots to cleaners, and make huge profits for the shareholders. “This is Generation easyJet,” the voiceover proudly proclaims in the finale of the ad, suggesting that low-cost travel in general, and easyJet in particular, define an era. This is echoed in the blurb on the ad agency’s website, which gushes, “easyJet’s low prices and expanding network of destinations heralded the democratization of air travel.” Indeed, the epithet “Generation easyJet” does capture an experience that will be familiar to many Europeans, and, in what it excludes, hints at the fissures in the foundations of European ideology.