Several economic reviews demonstrate the substantial costs related to climate change and consequently call for early action. These reviews, however, have been limited to measuring 'objective' risks and expected material damage related to climate change. The 'subjective' perceived risk of climate change and society's willingness to pay (WTP) to avoid these risks are expected to provide an important additional motivation for direct action. We investigate whether and why air travel passengers-an increasingly important source of greenhouse gas emissions-are supportive of measures that increase the cost of their travel based on the polluter pays principle and compensate the damage caused by their flight. Compared to the results of the few previous studies that have elicited WTP estimates for climate policy more generally, our results appear to be at the lower end of the scale, while a comparison to estimates of the social cost of carbon shows that the average WTP estimate in this study is close to the estimated marginal damage cost. Although significant differences are found between travellers from Europe, North America, Asia and the rest of the world, we show that there exists a substantial demand for climate change mitigation action. The positive risk premium over and above the expected property damage cost assessments should be accounted for more explicitly in economic reviews as it will add to the burden of proof of direct action. Measurements of passenger WTP will help policy makers to design effective financial instruments aimed at discouraging climate-unfriendly travel activities as well as to generate funds for the measures directed at climate change mitigation and adaptation. Based on stated WTP by travellers to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, funds in the order of magnitude of €23 billion could be generated annually to finance climate change mitigation activities. © 2008 The Author(s).