Flying, to put it lightly, is damn awful for the environment. Airplanes produce more carbon emissions per passenger than trains, buses and even passenger cars. Reducing air travel will be crucial to reaching net zero, slowing global warming and avoiding the worst of climate change.
While some flights (long distance and otherwise) are difficult to avoid, we can reduce the number of shorter flights by using alternatives like trains and buses. Not only are they much better for the environment, but when you factor in travel to and from the airport and all those endless security checks, planes and trains take about the same time.
So how do you persuade people to take trains and buses instead of planes? Well, one solution is to ban short-haul flights altogether, especially when there are valid alternatives by bus or train. And it’s a path that several European countries have already taken – but could others follow suit?
A few years ago, a poll revealed that 62% of Europeans would be in favor of a ban on short-haul flights. In other words, banning them may not just be good environmentally friendly policy. It could also be very popular.
Leading the way, the French government intends to ban certain short flights (those that would take two and a half hours or less by train or bus) if they have viable train and coach alternatives. This is expected to become law in the coming weeks, cutting around 12% of all French domestic flights.
And France has also found other ways to reduce short flights. As a condition of its pandemic bailout, Air France has been forced by the government to cut domestic routes. Austria took a similar approach: When the government bailed out Austrian Airlines during the pandemic, the carrier was ordered to stop operating its Vienna-Salzburg route so customers could favor train travel instead. .
Germany also has short-haul flights in its sights. Without banning or reducing them, the German government recently doubled the amount of tax levied on short-term airline tickets. Spain, meanwhile, has said it wants to eliminate all short-haul flights by 2050. Which is, well, not this ambitious. But better than nothing, we suppose?
In October 2021, Greenpeace demanded an EU-wide ban on all flights whose train journey would take less than six hours. It would indeed be a bold move, but the EU hasn’t quite endorsed it. Instead, he pledged to double the size of the bloc’s high-speed rail network by the end of the decade. Which is certainly a good start – and potentially paves the way for a more sustainable, low-carbon future.
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