The four first steps to reducing your air miles.

My dad is planning on coming to Europe for the first time since the early 1980s (I think… I don’t know but it was before I was born). He’s retired and doesn’t like winter, so he’s skipping the Australian winter (brrr!) and coming to warm Europe. And he’s in no rush to take the one stop flight to Norway, so instead he’s planning on flying via northern Queensland, Japan, Italy, Oslo and eventually up to Trondheim. But every step of the way he’s taking a good chunk of time to get out see what there is to see before stepping into another crowded vacuum sealed aluminium cylinder that’ll zip him over to the next city.

The reason he doesn’t like flying is because sitting in a chair for extended periods of time is no good for his back. And also he did his share of flying in his days working in the petroleum exploration industry.

So the approach he’s taking is actually quite a good one to follow, and he’s doing it without my persuasion either.

  1. Don’t fly if you don’t need to (keep away from the Boeing/Airbus bucket seats). There are lots of trains and boats and buses, particular for short-haul distances.
  2. Fly the most direct route possible if you’re short on time. Saves you time, hassle, emissions, re-checking in your luggage in some cases…
  3. Add utility to your stopover if possible. Stop and smell the flowers wherever you land if you don’t have a direct flight.
  4. Since some of the things you buy can travel by plane, try and avoid buying delicate fruits or other perishables from far away places, as these usually need to fly to you in order not to spoil (for example flowers, strawberries, avocados…)

Now of course I’ve broken these rules on numerous occassions, and chances are you may have too. I have taken some strange routings between Australia and Norway (via London to Oslo for example because I booked with British Airways once…). Or if I think about all the cities that I’ve had stopovers but have never actually visited:

  • Los Angeles (x 2)
  • Denver
  • Phoenix
  • Orlando
  • Doha (x 4)
  • Frankfurt
  • Abu Dhabi
  • Dubai (x2)

Now whilst I swore at the time I would never return to Orlando again because I was unnecessarily interrogated by US border police, there is no reason why I shouldn’t have used a bit of time to stopover and take a more relaxing trip. Flying is absolutely a luxury that many take for granted. Many others living in developing countries couldn’t dream of taking a weekend trip to Prague just for shopping, sightseeing or sitting in a spa.

It is the golden age of cheap flights. For many reasons:

  1. Airplanes are actually quite efficient in doing what they do using an energy balance perspective. They turn a fixed number of kilojoules of energy into lots of speed and it’s hard to make flying more energy efficient than it is. Big breakthroughs in airline efficiency haven’t been seen since the age of jet aircraft began in the ’60s.
  2. There is no tax on jet fuel. Or very little at least. Any airport, city or country that imposes a tax on jet fuel will find that airlines simply stop flying there. They’ll find alternatives nearby. And no city wants to stifle the number of visitors it receives (even if they are just transiting).
  3. There is no tax on the emissions coming from planes. Airlines sit in a legal grey territory with regards to environmental misdemeanors because they fly internationally and thus cannot easily attribute emissions to any one place (also because their passengers are not necessarily residents of the country of the airline either).
  4. There are subsidies for aircraft manufacturers, and airports are built by governments at very little cost to the airlines that use them. Basically it’s a bit like most of the old world fossil-based industries (reliant on subsidies, quick to kill alternatives, and protective of their non-sustainable industry). Think cars, most extractive industries, and primary manufacturing in developed countries.

If the airline industry began paying for the damage it did to the environment (and this applies equally to every other environmentally harmful industry) it would probably experience some degrowth. Which many people would say is probably a good thing. Did your parents or grandparents travel to Mallorca for the weekend? Or to Fiji or the Bahamas? Do we need to have 3 hour long business meetings with people on the other side of the world in person?

Maybe some of these things are changing already. There are of course tourism industries everywhere, and many people are promoting holidays ‘in your backyard.’ Conference call technology is improving all the time, and will at some point become much more normal. I have a few friends who also try to minimise their flying because of the damage it does.

Maybe I’ll get some of them to write guest posts for me, so that it can be seen that it’s not just me who’s an environmental extremist. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s