• Luke Dowding

Flight Free-ish

Last year, much to the surprise of friends and family, I made the pledge to go Flight Free. Many of my peers then commented how jammy I was to have given up flying in a year where it seemingly became impossible to fly; yet I found the opposite to be true.


When Covid-19 began to really impact Europe and governments slowly implemented measures to attempt to control the spread of the virus, I was actually in the middle of an overland trip to Albania with my husband. As the Albanian government began to announce its own restrictions, we decided to cut our trip short and begin to try and make our way back to the UK, mostly by train once we had crossed the border into Montenegro (you can read about our antics in my blog HERE). However, we soon realised that flying back to Blighty was our only solution as land borders began to close like falling dominoes. Defeated we booked flights back to London via Belgrade and watched as nations one by one locked themselves down.


Later in the year, we made it out of the UK via one of the now infamous “travel corridors” permitted by the government at the time. We again managed our outbound journey by train all the way down to Sicily, and then enjoyed a few weeks working in the Italian sunshine – latterly joined by fellow Worldly Wellbeing-er, Holly. But yet again it was the return journey that scuppered us – as wave 904 (or so it felt) of Covid-19 sent governments into a flurry again, and so once more we cancelled our overland travel and booked ourselves onto a flight back to London.


There have been many learnings for the travel industry during this past year, and one of them is clearly the need customers have for flexibility. Nobody wants to book anything that can’t be altered if needed, and there’s a growing fatigue for vouchers which we may never be able to use.


But there’s also been another area of uncomfortable learning for me as an individual: giving up flying really isn’t as easy as it ought to be. I speak from a place of incredible privilege here, acknowledging that the nature of my work often means I get to travel both for work itself and flexibly to include leisure and holiday time. I also have friends around the world who I love and value the opportunities I have to visit them. Yet last year, in the year where it ought to have been really easy to give up flying, I actually took two more flights than I had planned for.


I don’t like giving up, and I certainly don’t like feeling like I’ve not managed to achieve a goal I’ve set for myself, and that’s how I felt the two times I boarded flights last year. I felt defeated, but not for lack of trying.


When considering whether I might go “Flight Free” again for 2021, and whether this would be entirely or to only give up holiday flights (as set out in the tiers of the campaign), I’ve realised that this cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work for many of us in the context of a world still reeling from a pandemic. Of course, pledging to commit to something doesn’t mean that in an emergency you can’t break that pledge; but in the same way I don’t feel that the concept of “flygskam” or “flight-shame” actually leads to transformative behavioural change, I also feel that the guilt incurred by bailing on a commitment (however necessary) isn’t going to make anyone want to change their travel habits.


All being well, I have two weddings to attend abroad in the Autumn of this year; whilst one of them I can provisionally plan to travel by train to, I’m completely reliant on the travel policies of the handful of countries I’d be travelling through to get to my final destination. Which, as many of us have learned over the past 12 months, can change at the drop of the hat… or a particularly scary sneeze. The other wedding is in the US, and it’s simply not financially or logistically practical (nor better for the planet) to travel any other way than flying.


The Flight Free campaign is definitely a worthy cause, and I would encourage everyone to investigate and consider whether they’re honestly able to commit to any of the three levels suggested as a way to reduce our individual air travel. Yet, as we continue to uncover the disastrous impact of how many governments have responded to Covid-19, it’s likely that a blanket “I’m not going to fly” just won’t work for a lot of people.


I’m committed to reducing my reliance on air travel and calling for change in the aviation and travel industries – supported by a Green policies revolution in our governments, but I also need to acknowledge the limits of our current situation. This is an uncomfortable place for me to sit – a neither here nor there which my personality does not lend itself to. However, for what it’s worth, I’ll only be flying this year when there is no other reasonable (a combination of time/finance/safety/travel restrictions) option available to me – a privileged decision that I can make given my flexible employment and level of disposable income, but that’s likely another blog for another time…

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