Flying, for leisure or business, can easily become the biggest component of your personal carbon footprint, so avoid travelling by air unless there is no alternative.

Flights tips

  1. Don’t fly within the UK: drive, or take a train or coach instead

  2. Use alternative means of transport to reach Continental Europe

  3. Take holidays closer to home, preferably without flying

  4. Take fewer but longer holidays!

  5. Cut down on business travel

  6. Combine two or more trips

  7. If you must travel and can’t get there without flying, offset your flight emissions.

  8. Campaign against airport expansion

Overview

Flying, for leisure or business, can easily become your biggest personal contribution to climate change. For example, a return economy flight to Sydney, Australia emits the equivalent of 10.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide per passenger, which is half the average emissions of carbon dioxide per person in the UK in a year. Therefore, avoid travelling by air unless it cannot be avoided.

On average flights make up about one tenth of the total emissions of people in the UK. However, the majority of flights are taken by a relatively small group of people - people who take 4 or more  flights a year make up 10% of the population. If you fly regularly, and/or take long-haul flights, your carbon footprint is likely to be far higher than the UK average. Reducing the number, and especially the length, of flights you take is probably the single biggest step you can take to reduce your personal carbon footprint. If you must fly long-haul, only use direct (non-stop) flights and avoid internal flights once you have arrived.

CO2 impact

According to Defra (July 2013), the average amount of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted per kilometre for each passenger is 327g on domestic flights,193g on other short-haul flights and 227g on long-haul flights. However, WinACC has recently reviewed emissions from transport, including aircraft, and has assessed the equivalent emissions as being approximately 200g for domestic, 300g for short haul and 400 g for long haul flights (see next paragraph). Planes also emit other greenhouse gases such as water vapour, nitrogen and sulphur oxides and leave condensation trails (contrails) behind them which also trap heat in the atmosphere. These gases and contrails are thought to be significant when aircraft cruise at altitudes above 9000 metres. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that, because of the additional impact of these greenhouse gases and ‘cloudiness’ at high altitudes, the entire contribution of air traffic to global warming is on average 2 to 4 times higher than the corresponding carbon dioxide emissions alone. THE FIGURES QUOTED ABOVE ATTEMPT TO INCLUDE THESE ADDITIONAL EMISSIONS. However they can be calculated in different ways, and WinACC’s figures are based on those assessed using the “atmosfair” calculator.

You can estimate the climate change impact of specific flights using atmosfair .

While the exact figures are uncertain and probably not important to most people, their general magnitude is. What is definite is that flying emits large amounts of greenhouse gases, and because it allows people to travel very long distances it can cause a very substantial climate warming effect.

Money aspects

The financial impact of flying less depends very much on what you decide to do instead. We often hear how cheap flying is these days, but don’t forget to factor in all the “hidden costs” such as travelling to and from the airports, parking, taxes, surcharges and in-flight extras. In addition prices are beginning to increase as the UK government’s air passenger duty and new EU carbon-emissions trading rules begin to bite.

Other benefits

Flying is usually thought of as the quickest option, but of course you need to allow time to get to the airport and to check-in 1 to 3 hours before the flight which includes time for security checks, and time to collect your luggage and travel on to your final destination at the other end. Some of our tips help you to travel less, which means more time to do other things.

Other modes of transport can be more relaxing and more enjoyable – for example, a scenic but high-speed rail journey can become part of the holiday itself.

The environmental concerns about flying are not limited to climate change – it also contributes to air pollution and noise pollution. Moreover, building extra airports and runways can damage communities, destroy wildlife habitats and harm biodiversity.

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1. Don’t fly within the UK: drive, or take a train or coach instead

CO2 impact

Public transport tends to have lower emissions than travelling by car, but it does depend on the number of people sharing the car and the size of your engine (which largely dictates emissions per kilometre). The graph below assumes your car has a “medium” sized diesel engine.

Various carbon calculators enable you to find out the carbon cost of your journey. However the global warming impact of flying is much higher than from corresponding emissions of carbon dioxide alone. We therefore recommend you calculate your flights emissions with atmosfair (which multiplies carbon dioxide emissions by a factor of 3 for long-haul flights). Beware some sources which quote emissions of carbon alone (not carbon dioxide); these figures need to be multiplied by 3.67 to get the figure for carbon dioxide and then by up to 3 to get the carbon dioxide equivalent amount.

Money aspects

You can get some really cheap train and coach fares, especially if you book well in advance, travel off-peak, use a railcard and/or buy a non-flexible ticket. Click here for tips on getting the cheapest train tickets and here for current UK transport deals.

If you travel by car, share the journey with others and split the fuel costs.

Other benefits

Flying isn’t necessarily quicker – don’t forget to factor in the time taken to get to the airport, possibly park a car, check in, go through security, collect your luggage at the other end, and travel on to your final destination. Other means of transport can be less stressful (think of those queues at the airport!) and more comfortable (think of those tight seat belts and cramped seats in the aircraft!). High-speed trains usually go from city centre to city centre.

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2. Use alternative means of transport to reach Continental Europe

Use alternative means of transport to reach Continental Europe. Consult The Man in Seat 61 for information about travelling in the UK and abroad, by high-speed train, ship or other non-air travel means. Eurostar from London St Pancras International is the gateway to an extensive network of Continental high-speed trains. Brussels is reached in only two hours and Paris in two and a quarter hours. Complete timetables for all European trains can be found at www.bahn.com

CO2 impact

The graph above of approximate emissions for a return journey between Southampton and Edinburgh gives an indication of the relative emissions of different modes of transport. In practice, emissions per passenger will vary, for example according to the type of train, the class of travel and how full the train is.

According to Eurostar, a journey by one of its trains already emits one tenth of the amount of carbon dioxide of an equivalent flight and it is committed to reducing its emissions further. Click here and here for more details.

Money aspects

When comparing prices, don’t forget to factor in the cost of getting to and from the airports, possibly parking, taxes and fuel surcharges, and the optional extras such as in-flight meals and baggage check-in.

If you travel overnight, by train, you save the cost of a night’s accommodation, although your ticket will cost more if you opt for a sleeper berth.

Other benefits

Make the journey part of your holiday and enjoy the views en-route. Alternatively, travel on an overnight train to make the most of the time available. Trains tend to run from city centre to city centre and so the time and cost of travel to and from airports is avoided.

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3. Take holidays closer to home, preferably without flying

There are plenty of things to do and places to visit in England, Scotland, Wales and elsewhere in Europe.

CO2 impact

Money aspects

As you would expect, shorter journeys tend to be cheaper!

Other benefits

Get to know the UK better. Support the local economy and help to increase employment in the UK tourism sector.

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4. Take longer holidays!

For example, replace two one-week holidays by one two-week holiday. Then, even if you do fly, you’ve reduced the number of flights you take. However, don’t be tempted to fly further for the trip you do make!

Avoid flying away just for a weekend if at all possible.

CO2 impact

To calculate how much emissions you avoid by not making a particular flight, visit atmosfair.

Money aspects

Fewer journeys obviously means lower expenditure on travel. You may also be able to get a better rate on accommodation if you are staying for longer.

Other benefits

You will spend less time travelling and have longer to re-charge your batteries before returning home.

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5. Cut down on business travel

Do you really need to meet in person? Perhaps you could speak by telephone, web-cam or video-conference, or use a computer-to-computer system instead.

CO2 impact

To calculate how much emissions you avoid by not making a particular flight, visit atmosfair.

Money aspects

OK, so this one saves money for your company rather than you, but this can benefit you indirectly. A more profitable business could mean greater job security and/or a higher bonus.

Other benefits

Make more efficient use of your working hours and reduce the time you spend away from your family.

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6. Combine two or more trips

If you do need to take that trip, can you visit other people at the same time, or combine it with a holiday afterwards?

CO2 impact

To calculate how much emissions you avoid by not making a particular flight, visit atmosfair.

Money aspects

Make two trips together and halve your travel costs!

Other benefits

Reduce the time you spend travelling and free up time for other activities.

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7. If you must travel and can’t get there without flying, offset your flight

There are many offsetting schemes these days, but make sure you choose one such as Atmosfair which recognises the full impact of flying and funds projects which genuinely reduce carbon emissions. Read Friends of the Earth’s briefing note for more information.

CO2 impact

The idea of offsetting is to make your flight carbon-neutral – you fund a project which reduces carbon emissions by the amount your flight was responsible for. However, you do need to make sure that the project genuinely reduces carbon emissions – some projects, such as planting trees, will soak up carbon dioxide decades in the future rather than now, which is what is urgently needed; other projects would have happened anyway, without your funding.

Money aspects

Atmosfair charges €23 (about £20) to offset one tonne of carbon dioxide emissions, which is broadly equivalent to one return flight from Heathrow to Athens in Greece.

Other benefits

There is now a wide range of projects you can invest in, so you can choose one which strikes a chord with you. Many projects seek to improve the quality of life for people in developing countries as well as reduce carbon emissions.

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8. Campaign against airport expansion

For example, join stopheathrowexpansion or Plane Stupid.

CO2 impact

A conservative estimate of aviation’s future significance, which uses optimistic forecasts of improvements in fuel efficiency and air traffic management and relatively modest growth rates, suggests that, between 1990 and 2050, the carbon dioxide emissions from aviation could approximately quadruple. Other forecasts suggest that the carbon dioxide from aviation could grow by more than 10 times over that period. The argument that airport expansion is required to support the UK economy is at best ill-informed. Only about 20 to 30 per cent of all flights from airports in southeast England are for business; the rest are for leisure and visiting friends and family.

Meanwhile, most climate scientists agree that carbon dioxide emissions need to be cut by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. Clearly, in order to meet that target, a significant reduction in the projected growth of aviation, or even a decrease in aviation, would be required. Indeed, a 2007 study which looked at scenarios for a 60% cut in emissions showed that, even under the Department for Transport’s “best” case projection, over half of the UK’s carbon budget in 2050 would be taken up by the aviation industry!

Money aspects

A 2006 report by Friends of the Earth concludes that the economic case used by the Government and aviation industry for further expansion is inaccurate and misleading: it says that economic benefits have been overstated, and many economic and environmental costs ignored. It concludes that stopping expansion will still allow millions of people to fly, help the UK meet the colossal challenge of climate change, and protect other sectors of the economy.

Other benefits

Preventing more flights would mean less air pollution, and less noise for those living near airports. Building extra airports and runways can damage communities, destroy wildlife habitats and harm biodiversity.

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If you would like to give feedback on this site, or have any suggestions for improvement, please contact us. We are particularly keen to hear about other organisations and initiatives in and around Winchester which can help people reduce their carbon footprint.

The information on this page is provided in good faith and reflects our understanding of the underlying science and technology at the time of writing, but we cannot guarantee that it is wholly accurate. All figures for costs, savings and other matters are estimates: the actual figures will depend on your particular circumstances and may differ (perhaps significantly) from those shown. Although we have included links to various organisations, we are not recommending these organisations: it is your responsibility to check that they are suitable for your needs. Nonetheless, if you experience difficulties with any of the links or organisations, or believe that any of the information presented here is inaccurate, please let us know and we will update this page if we consider it necessary.

 

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