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  • Writer's pictureEveline Vouillemin

Could you take a flight free year in 2024?

Updated: Feb 15

In a world grappling with the urgent need for environmental action, many individuals are re-evaluating their travel habits and embracing taking a flight free year.

Train tracks between fields and trees with the sun shining.

Flight Free UK is a campaign group, inspired by the Swedish "Flygfritt" (flight-free) movement, that challenges people to take a year off flying to reduce emissions and shift the norm away from aviation.

They are also part of Stay Grounded, a global network of organisations founded in 2016 to promote alternatives to aviation to address climate change.

Over the past few years, I have been hugely inspired by the stories of others who have taken the flight free pledge, such as:

  • Writer and explorer Emma Lucy who believes that pledging not to fly “is also about finding ways of travelling which enhance the experience not only for the travellers themselves, but also for the people and environments we travel to meet”.

  • Co-founder of 100 Black Men Walk Maxwell Ayamba who is conscious of how our actions impact the world around us and wants to protect and preserve our planet for future generations "We as human beings are co-existing with other species and life-forms and we must act responsibly to pass it on to future generations".

  • Activist Poppy Okotcha who writes powerfully about how she “learned to live in the journey rather than the destination” and feels she “can’t fly knowing I’m choosing to use my privilege in a way that will hurt others now and into the future”

I took the flight free pledge in 2022 and will be taking it again this year, keeping my feet firmly grounded for 2024. Here’s why:

1. Flight Free For the Environment

The 2023 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report gives the clearest warning yet that we are on course to face catastrophic climate change. There’s never been a more crucial time to take action for the climate and when we all unite, real change is possible.

So many of us don't realise how carbon-intensive flying is. Did you know that the total carbon impact of a single long haul return flight is so high that avoiding just one trip can be equivalent to going (petrol) car-free for a year and flying economy from London to Paris generates 27 times the CO2 emissions of making the same journey by Eurostar?

In addition to CO2, aviation has impacts in the upper atmosphere that exacerbate global warming because flying produces large quantities of nitrogen, water vapour and soot which at high volumes are extremely polluting. The combined impact creates a net warming effect which roughly triples the total global warming impact of aviation compared to CO2 alone.

Flying less is one of the easiest ways to make a significant reduction to your carbon footprint and taking a flight free year is a chance to open your eyes to alternative modes of transport. Other options such as train, bus and coach travel are dramatically more sustainable than flying. Use the Trainline journey calculator to find out just how much carbon you could save by choosing to travel by train.

Grapic showing the climate impact of different modes of transport.

2. Flight Free For Justice

Only around 10% of the world's population has ever been on a plane and 1% of people cause 50% of global aviation emissions but the consequences of rising emissions are felt by everyone all over the world.

Just one flight can produce more emissions than many individuals in some countries emit in a year. This is especially true of many of the world’s poorest countries.

It is a huge injustice that the people who are least responsible for causing the climate crisis, are often the most affected by it and have the fewest resources to protect themselves. (How climate change is making inequality worse)

Even here in the UK, only around half of us fly in any given year, but the negative effects of increased emissions, air pollution and noise pollution are felt by all of us. Therefore, choosing to stay grounded is not only a positive choice for the climate but also for each other.

Graphic demonstrating the injustice of flying.

3. Flight Free For Social and System Change

We can often feel overwhelmed and powerless, as though our individual actions don't make a difference. However, as well as reducing our own emissions, choosing not to fly has the potential to have an impact on those around us.

If lots of us take this pledge together, we can completely shift the social norms around flying. This will also have an impact at a higher level. As consumers, we have real power, and the choices we make can influence government policy and industry choices.

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” - Jane Goodall

4. Flight Free Adventures

Not flying does not mean an end to travelling. With the whole of the UK and Europe on our doorstep, we have so many holiday destinations to choose from. Taking the train or bus instead of the plane can drastically reduce emissions and going overland can be a really wonderful experience.

In 2022, I had a fantastic flight free adventure by train and bus to the picturesque haven of Ile de Ré off the west coast of France and Flight Free UK regularly shares stories of overland travel inspiration including York to Tuscany, Sheffield to Budapest and Prague to Pembrokeshire.

A number of sustainable travel companies who offer flight-free itineraries are popping up in response to demand:

  • Byway - a slow travel planner for flight-free trips, launched in 2020. Each trip is “personalised for the holidaymaker, and optimised for quality of experience instead of speed”

  • No Fly Travel Club - offer “sustainable rail trips for adventurous souls”. They believe that stopping flying doesn’t have to mean an end to travelling and that train journeys can be an exciting, atmospheric and pleasurable way to travel

  • Train X Europe - a fully customisable, no-fly travel service for Europe, helping to provide people with the knowledge and confidence to make a success of their flight-free adventures.

As well as the increase in the number of sustainable travel companies, Europe seems to be supporting the revival of slow travel by launching new train routes. For example, the French start-up Midnight Trains has announced plans for a network of overnight services out of Paris from 2024 and following the launch of the Brussels–Amsterdam–Berlin night train, European Sleeper are extending the route to Dresden and Prague later this year.

Train travelling alongside a lake with the forest as a backdrop.

Could you take a year away from flying?

Now, I know flying brings a number of benefits too such as the opportunity to explore new cultures and visit loved ones overseas. However, not flying doesn’t have to mean the end of travel or holidays. Adventure is just a train, bus, car or bike ride away. 

Flight Free UK recognises that everyone has different needs and situations. It may not be possible for everyone to stop flying - for example, you may have family on the other side of the world and sometimes your work might require a flight - so for those who can’t be completely flight free for a year, they also offer a ‘free choice’ pledge. For example, you could pledge to take no flights in Europe or you could choose not to take any holiday flights.

In a Flight Free UK podcast episode, Emily Tulloh spoke about the challenge of having family living in Australia. This resonated with me as I also have family who live in Australia. While she has been flight free in previous years, she knew she would be flying to see them in 2023 so she took the custom pledge and committed to “take no flights in Europe”. 

My situation was the same last year, and this conversation inspired me to focus on what I could do in 2023 (no European flights), knowing that I would be able to be completely flight free again in 2024 (as I had been in previous years), and it empowered me to continue to speak about sustainable travel choices with others. 

For me, taking the pledge this year feels like a positive step towards a more hopeful and greener future and I am looking forward to staying grounded in 2024.

So far, 2,587 people have signed up to the Flight Free UK pledge for 2024. Could you join them?

By Eveline Vouillemin ©


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