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Air travel. After the pandemic will we fly as before?

02/03/2021 – by Andy Hannah

Air travel is carbon emissions intensive and is one of the main areas where individual choices can make a big difference to your influence on carbon emissions.

So, let's have a look at what can be done, once the pandemic is over

We travel by air for three main reasons- work, holidays and family visits. Let's look at these separately.

Firstly, work. The first question is "Do we need to make the journey at all?" The covid pandemic has been terrible in so many ways, but one thing to come out of it is the extent to which most people have got used to video conferencing as a substitute for face-to-face meetings. Now that that is generally accepted, work travel patterns have the potential to be different once the pandemic restrictions have passed. Avoiding business travel saves time and money as well as avoiding carbon emissions. When I lived in Scotland a decade or so ago, the majority of my work meetings were in England. So, latterly, I was flying at least every two weeks with a horrible carbon impact. Relocating to Audlem, with its proximity to Crewe almost eliminated my flying. Even any necessary trips back to Scotland were generally by train. I flew only twice in five years, both times to Aberdeen. But those trips were for meetings which would today been done by Zoom, Teams or similar. Which brings me back to video conferencing. Most of my original trips from Scotland could now be avoided and conducted by video call. How much more productive would my working life have been and how much carbon saved? Not all work trips are for meetings and those involving physical work in another location cannot be avoided, but a good proportion of business trips can. So, with Crewe on our doorstep and video conferencing at our fingertips, the potential is there to massively reduce flying for work. Of course, this will reduce your employers carbon footprint, not your personal footprint, but it's still emissions which you may have the opportunity to influence.

Then there are holidays, and we're all looking forward to that! It's hard to believe that I'm writing this at a time when holidays are actually illegal, but that's where we are, and we must assume that things will be different before too long. I'm going to start by making it clear that I'm not going to suggest that we don't take holidays when we are allowed to once more. It's good for us and we should, but can we reduce our carbon emissions while still having fun? We have had a couple of fabulous holidays in recent years travelling by train. We travelled to Bruges by train, which was easier, I think, than if we had flown. And possibly our best-ever holiday was to the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall by train, ferry and a few buses thrown in. We had plans in place for a trip to Italy by train which the pandemic has put on hold, but the arrangements didn't seem too difficult. And Britain has so much to offer too. It's back to our proximity to Crewe which opens up so many opportunities to travel with a fraction of the carbon impact.

And finally, family visiting That's perhaps the trickiest one, as family are where they are, and that's usually not easy to change. But some of the arguments above may sometimes apply to this too. Trains instead of flights? Some visits displaced by more frequent video calls? Maybe some carbon reducing may be possible in this area too with a bit of determined planning.

There are lots of good Government published statistics for the relative carbon impact of different modes of travel, but maybe that's for another article another day. Suffice to say that traveling by train is much much lower in carbon emissions than flying, and in nearly all circumstances flying is the worst carbon option. And, of course, if there are things we can do differently without making a journey at all, that gives the biggest carbon saving.

Andy Hannah – February 2021

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