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Could short-haul flights soon be banned in Europe?

A majority of Europeans say they’d be open to a ban that would cut carbon emissions and boost train travel

Ed Cunningham
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Ed Cunningham
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Flying, to put it lightly, is goddamn awful for the environment. Planes produce more carbon emissions per traveller than trains, coaches and even private cars. Cutting down on air travel will be crucial to achieving net-zero, slowing global warming and avoiding the worst of climate change.

While some flying (long distance and the like) is 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 take into account travel to and from the airport and all those interminable security checks, planes and trains take roughly the same amount of time, too.

So how do you persuade people to take trains and coaches over planes? Well, one way is through banning short-haul flights outright, especially when there are valid bus or train alternatives. And that’s a route that several European countries have already taken – but could more follow suit?

A couple of years ago, a poll found that 62 percent of Europeans would support a ban on short-haul flights. In other words, banning them might not just be a good, environmentally-friendly policy. It could also be pretty popular.

Leading the way is the French government, which intends to ban some short flights (those that would take two and a half hours or less by train or bus) if they have viable rail and coach alternatives. That’s due to become law in the coming weeks, effectively wiping out around 12 percent of all domestic French flights.

And France has found other ways to reduce short flights, too. As a condition of its pandemic bailout, Air France was forced by the government to cut back on its domestic routes. Austria has taken a similar tack: when the government bailed out Austrian Airlines during the pandemic, the carrier was ordered to stop operating its Vienna-Salzburg route so that customers could prioritise train travel instead.

Germany also has short-haul flights in its sights. While not banning or cutting back on them, the German government recently doubled the amount of tax levied on short flight tickets. Spain, meanwhile, has said it wants to eliminate all short-haul flights by 2050. Which is, well, not that ambitious. But better than nothing, we guess?

In October 2021, Greenpeace demanded an EU-wide ban on any flights where the rail journey would take under six hours. That’d be a bold move indeed, but the EU hasn’t quite endorsed it. Instead, it’s committed to doubling 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, lower-carbon future.

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