In April 2022, France banned domestic flights on routes that could be travelled via train in under two and a half hours, citing environmental reasons. Other large economies could follow suit, but several complexities exist.
France is prohibiting some domestic flights
The French government has banned short-haul flights where a train or bus alternative of two and a half hours or less exists, a move which came into effect in April 2022. This new rule is part of an overall effort by France to reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030, bringing them back down to 1990 levels.
Banning short haul domestic flights may sound drastic. However, just 12% of French domestic flights will be affected, according to UK newspaper The Guardian. Most domestic routes are between Paris and the south such as Toulouse, Marseille, and Nice. Connecting flights will also be exempt. Nevertheless, the ban imposed by the French government can be seen as an important step towards accepting that curbing or changing consumption patterns is essential for driving down emissions.
Sustainability is increasingly at the forefront of travel
The Covid-19 pandemic has provided an opportune moment for the aviation industry, governments, and consumers to rethink the future of travel in terms of environmental sustainability. According to a GlobalData poll, 67% of respondents believe that the Covid-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst for increased focus and action on ESG issues*. Even prior to Covid-19, consumer concern for the environment was already growing. This can be seen most acutely in a global movement of people demanding stronger and more targeted actions from the public and private sector. Concurrently, a GlobalData survey found that 74% of global respondents consider environmental matters as ‘extremely’ or ‘quite’ important**.
Greenpeace is advocating a ban on short-haul flights where there is a train alternative of under six hours, as reported by CNN Traveler, arguing that this would eliminate 3.5 million tons of carbon emissions per year. However, there are a multitude of complex factors that decision makers and tourism suppliers need to consider such as budget and time. According to a GlobalData survey, accessibility (52%) and affordability (58%) are the two most influential factors that travellers consider when deciding where to go on holiday**. Improvements need to be made to the quality of trains, frequency of trains, ticket costs, accessibility, and how travellers will substitute air travel.
Other countries could follow suit
While this is the first time any major economy has taken drastic action in prohibiting domestic flights for environmental reasons, other countries could enact similar environmental incentives to reduce carbon emissions around domestic travel. In the context of the UK, this could be easily replicated on routes such as London and Manchester. Between the two cities, half a million flights were taken every year before the pandemic, with CO₂ emissions for this journey being 70.7kg CO₂ equivalent, according to LNER’s carbon calculator. The same journey takes approximately two hours by train and produces six times less carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, the Austrian government included a condition during the bailout of Austrian Airlines, where domestic flights should be eliminated when there is an alternative train journey under three hours possible, such as between Vienna and Salzburg. Finding fair ways to impose these limits and curb carbon emissions in practice will be difficult. Nevertheless, banning unnecessary domestic flights may be the place to start.
*GlobalData Poll – Ended on 19 Oct 2021, 1,500 Responses
**GlobalData Q3 2021 Consumer Survey – 22,499 Respondents