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  • Writer's pictureEveline Vouillemin

Could you take a year flight free?

More and more people are adopting sustainable habits in order to protect the planet. Stopping flying, or at least reducing the amount you fly, is definitely something we should all consider.

When I took flights in the past, I never really thought about what it was doing to the environment. However, I have recently become increasingly aware of the impact of aviation emissions on our planet and the aviation industry’s contribution to the climate crisis.

I have been hugely inspired by the stories of others who have pledged not to fly, such as:

  • UK-based sustainable fashion journalist Armelle Ferguson who wants to do everything possible to protect her “culture and home island (Caribbean) to ensure that it will still be there for my children and my grandchildren to enjoy”

  • 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”

  • 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 have decided to try and follow in their footsteps by taking the Flight Free UK pledge, keeping my feet firmly grounded for 2022. Here’s why:

1. Flight Free For the Environment

So many of us don't realise how carbon-intensive flying is. Did you know that the total carbon impact of a single flight is so high that avoiding just one trip can be equivalent to going (petrol) car-free for a year?

The 2021 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.

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.

2. Flight Free For Justice

Only around 10% of the world's population has ever been on a plane 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.

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 instead of the plane can reduce emissions by as much as 90%, and going overland can be a really wonderful experience.

Everyone has a different story and individual circumstances. It may not be possible for everyone to stop flying - you may have a job that requires travel or family on the other side of the world - but it is important to be more mindful of the choices we make.

For me, taking the pledge feels like an empowering step towards a more hopeful and greener future and I am looking forward to being more thoughtful about the way I travel in 2022.

The environmental impacts of flying

The environmental costs of air travel are huge and growing, and the worst impacts will be felt by future generations.

The aviation industry currently accounts for 2% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions (CO2), one of the key greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. By 2050, this is expected to increase to 22% if nothing changes.

Aviation’s climate impact isn’t limited to CO2. Flying also 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.

Planes are fuel hungry

A Boeing 747 will use more than 4 litres of fuel a second. This equates to 94 billion gallons of fuel being used from commercial airlines each year which is enough to fill nearly 150,000 swimming pools! Fuel is predominantly made from oil, a non-renewable resource which is extracted at great cost to our environment.

Flying is a much bigger polluter than other form of transport

Train, bus and coach travel are dramatically more sustainable than flying.

Plane pollution vs car pollution are slightly closer but cars still come out more favourably. Even single-passenger cars are more environmentally friendly than flying short journeys and once you have the other seats filled you’ll produce five times less carbon individually than boarding a flight.

On top of all this, the CO2 produced at a higher altitude has a worse impact than at ground level. This means, for example, that 50 kg of CO2 produced from planes in the sky has a much bigger environmental impact than from car exhausts on ground level.

Negative impact on wildlife

Every year hundreds of thousands of birds and animals are killed and disrupted by planes. Natural environments are also hugely disrupted by the noise and light pollution from the aviation industry and the development of airports.

Environmental impact not reflected in the cost

Subsidies from fuel taxes give the airline industry an unfair advantage over other forms of transportation. Consumers don’t see the true environmental costs of their air travel because low flight prices don’t reflect their environmental impact.

The Aviation Environment Federation produced a report on aviation emissions which includes eye-opening statistics comparing the impact of flying with emissions from other day to day activities:

  • Flying economy from London to Paris generates 27 times the CO2 emissions of making the same journey by Eurostar (53 kg compared with 2 kg for a one-way trip)

  • Taking a single long haul return flight from Birmingham to Delhi (emitting just over 1 tonne CO2) would wipe out all the savings made by switching from moderate meat consumption to being vegan for a year

  • Annual emissions per capita in the UK from driving are around 1 tonne CO2, equivalent to the emissions of a single long haul return flight

While planes are gradually becoming more efficient and will continue to do so, it is not happening at the pace necessary to allow for unlimited growth in flights and passenger numbers. This means that aviation needs to be restricted. Currently, there are very few options to limit aviation’s emissions except to not fly.

Transition to slower, more sustainable travel

As well as local travel, sustainable and slower travel has gained in popularity in recent years. Responsible Travel reported that enquiries for flight-free travel have doubled in the past five years, as has demand for rail holidays.

What’s more, research from’s 2021 Sustainable Travel Report found that 61% of global travellers said the pandemic had made them want to travel more sustainably in the future.

A number of interesting 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

  • Travelling Whale - an online travel agency committed to creating positive change in the travel industry by creating sustainable adventures around the world that use travel as a force for good

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 sleeper train routes offering travellers the opportunity to travel vast distances while sleeping.

Increased awareness about climate change has played an important role in the renewed interest in Europe’s sleeper trains, many of which were abandoned when it became possible to fly across the continent for the price of a croissant and a coffee.

Eurostar is pushing for a merger with its Franco-Belgian rival, Thalys, as part of their joint Green Speed project, which aims to link the UK with the Mediterranean, the North Sea with the Atlantic and Benelux with the Alps.

Other rail companies such as Austrian Federal Railways, and the Swedish government, are also committed to boosting the number of sleeper trains, making sustainable forms of travel more accessible for everyone.

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, as I’ve highlighted above, flying is having a significant impact on our planet and that can’t be ignored any longer.

Crucially, not flying doesn’t have to mean the end of travel or holidays. Adventure is just a train, bus, car or bike ride away. So, what do you think, could you join me in a flight free 2022?

If you feel inspired to take the pledge, then head to the Flight Free UK website where I signed up.

Flight Free UK is a campaign group, inspired by the Swedish "Flygfritt" (flight-free) movement, whose mission is to inform people of the climate impact of aviation and to encourage people to sign an annual pledge to remain flight-free for a year.

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

Flight Free UK recognise that everyone has different needs and situations so they offer three different pledge options:

  • Flight free for 2022

  • Flight free for holidays in 2022 (some people still have to take flights for work or family reasons)

  • Flight free for life

So far, 3,870 people have signed up to the Flight Free UK pledge for 2022 – committing to take no flights, or only essential flights (no leisure trips) for the next 12 months. Could you join them?

By Eveline Vouillemin ©

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