My love-hate relationship with cheap flights

I’ve mentioned a few times on this blog that I love cheap flights.

However, I don’t know whether that’s strictly true anymore.

A couple of years ago I managed to get a return flight to Menorca (a Spanish Baleaeric Island in the Mediterranean) for just £20. I had an amazing six days in the sun lazing on the beaches and partying in Ciutadella.

But recently, I don’t feel so enthusiastic when I see cheap flight deals…

As a traveller, or a travel blogger, there is no way of looking someone in the eye and saying you care about the environment while still taking a plane to get from A to B. Last year I took eighteen separate flights. EIGHTEEN. Five of which were IN THE SAME MONTH.

And flying is only becoming more popular. Gone are the days of going on one holiday per year. More people than ever take advantage of budget airlines offering cheap-as-chips journeys at ungodly hours in the morning: weekend getaways, city breaks, multiple trips a year are becoming the norm. 120,000 flights take off ever single day, carrying 12 million passengers [Source].

Why? Because flights are so cheap.

It might shock you that it’s actually cheaper for me to drive from my house in Peterborough to London Stansted airport, pay for a few days’ parking and get on a flight, than it is to travel to somewhere like Bristol or Liverpool by train.

Seems weird right?

Perhaps there’s an issue with the way they price train tickets in the UK ( actually, yes, there definitely is), but I think airlines are a little to blame here, too.

Did you hear the story of the guy who flew from Newcastle to London via Spain because it was cheaper than taking a train? Or the student who flew from Sheffield to Essex via Berlin in order to save money? And the girls that met up in Malaga rather than at each others’ Universities, again, because it was cheaper?

With airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair offering fares from as little as £2.99 (yes, really), how can you resist the temptation to board a plane and jet off to a new city for a few days – or even for a few hours, if it ends up saving you a decent amount of money?

Everyone knows flying is bad for the planet.

Planes consume a LOT of fuel – about a gallon (4 litres) every second. Fuel is made from oil (a non-renewable resource that’s going to run out at some point).

Planes produce a LOT of carbon dioxide (CO2) – that’s the greenhouse gas which is hugely contributing to global warming. A return flight from the UK to Australia uses about 5.5 tonnes of CO2 per person – the annual average for one person in the UK is 7.1 tonnes. EEEKKK!!

Planes also produce a lot of other crap: soot, nitrogen, water vapour. And then there’s the airports that house them, and the factories that create them. Think of all that extra energy, electricity, water, chemicals, waste. There’s the transportation of fuel and food and products, manufacturing of maintenance vehicles, cleaning processes…

And there’s no “green” alternative. Well, besides walking. But planes aren’t going to become solar-powered or anything similar any time soon are they? And Heathrow have just had the plans for a third runway approved. There is no stopping the aviation industry.

Interestingly, flying CAN be better for the environment than taking the train or driving but ONLY when the plane is full and is travelling for a long distance (meaning the gallons of fuel consumed and CO2 produced per person is much lower than it would be for a short haul flight or if the plane is half empty). Also, if carbon dioxide is produced in the sky rather than on the ground, it has a much worse effect on the environment.

Why do we choose to be ignorant of the impact the aviation industry has on our planet?

Everyone knows that flying is bad for the environment. I mean it’s dreadful for the environment, isn’t it?

Yet, we continue to fly. We know it, and yet we choose to swap plastics for bamboo, take shorter showers, swap paper for digital, and separate our waste into recyclables and garbage. But when it comes to flying, we turn a blind eye.

We ignore how detrimental taking a flight is for our planet, favouring the eagerness to escape our 9-5; the convenience of travelling extraordinary distances in just a few hours; the comfort of having a designated seat, a clear timeframe, and the ease of making a reservation.

I think there are three reasons we continue to turn a blind eye to the negative impact flying has on the environment.

First, it’s cheap. See above.

Second, there’s often no convenient alternative. If you travel for work, you can’t be expected to take long train journeys rather than a quick flight. If you live overseas, you can’t be expected to take a boat instead of a plane.

Third, and possibly most importantly: as humans, we are designed to explore. There’s a famous quote, “If humans were meant to stay in one place, we’d have roots instead of feet“. This is wholly true. We are curious by nature – it was my curiosity about the world that inspired me to begin this blog.

So that leaves me to wonder whether we can ever expect a substantial change to the aviation industry, to the cost of flights, to the frequency we fly or even to our attitude towards flying. Let’s face it, politicians aren’t going to vote to ban flights altogether are they? It’s simply not going to happen.

But sustainability isn’t about enforcing strict do’s and don’ts.

This is the interesting thing about sustainability. It’s not about completely stopping doing something; it’s about doing something in a way that enables it to be maintained at a certain rate or level.

We can’t all simply stop flying. The aviation industry supports around 63 million jobs worldwide [Source]. For some countries, it’s a huge part of daily life. Travelling by plane brings holidaymakers to so many countries that rely on tourism as an integral part of their income.

But we do need to do something.

1. Choose alternatives to flying where possible

Sometimes a flight is the only option. I mean, if you live in New Zealand, you can’t really get anywhere without flying. Is it even possible to you even take a boat to Australia? Probably not. But if an alternative is available, let’s seriously consider using it.

  • Did you know you can travel all the way from London to Singapore without flying? Youtubers Sally and Ed travelled all the way from Australia to London without taking a plane.
  • Europe has brilliant transport routes which are easy to use, clean and efficient. Interrail is an awesome concept which means you can see most of the continent by train.
  • Public transport is a great way to meet locals and experience a slice of local life. I loved visiting Sri Lanka using public transport!
  • Changing your outlook to focus on what you can see in a smaller geographical area will help you discover new places rather than visit the same overcrowded tourist spots. I visited France this Spring and went to the Haut Languedoc National Park, an area which rarely features in magazines and is relatively unknown by foreign tourists.

2. Offset your flights

This is one of the easiest things you can do if you’re going to take a flight. Carbon offset projects are where you can pay to make up for the carbon dioxide used for your flight, usually in the form of planting new trees or investing in renewable energies and technologies. You can offset your flight directly with your airline when you book, or you can do it with a different offsetting company (even for flights you’ve already taken). I don’t believe offsetting your flights is a complete solution to flying but I do think it’s better than not doing it at all.

3. Choose Economy over Business Class

The more people packed onto a flight, the better (for the environment). If a plane is taking 200 people from A to B, that’s surely better than the same plane taking 150 people.

4. Take direct flights instead of layovers

Lots of budget travel blogs out there will recommend taking multiple flights to get from one destination to the other. It might be cheaper say, to fly from London to Cologne, from Cologne to Singapore, and then from Singapore to Sydney, than it would be to take a direct flight from London to Sydney. But places produce the most emissions at take off and landing. When you’re in the air, the plane is producing the least amount of shit into the atmosphere. So take 1 flight, not 3, even if you end up spending more.

5. Travel hand luggage only (or with as little weight as possible)

Extra weight on the aircraft means more fuel to power it up. This probably sounds like a lost cause, but really, if everyone took 15kg on a long haul flight rather than the whopping 40kg some airlines allow, thats 5000kg saved on one flight. This article is worth a look on this topic.

What are your thoughts on air travel?

Flying is a privilege. We have a choice whether to book a flight rather than drive or take a train. I believe we need to start making choices that will contribute to a more sustainable future. What do you think?

Thanks for reading and happy travels!

This post contains affiliate links. If you click on them and purchase something from the linked site, I’ll earn a tiny (and I mean tiny!) commission at no extra cost to you, which contributes to running this blog.

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