Flight Shame: 7 Women Who Gave Up Flying Tell Us How They Travel

A survey conducted by Swiss Bank UBS earlier this month revealed one in five people are choosing to cut back on flying.

According to the BBC, UBS reached out to more than 6,000 people in the UK, US, Germany, and France in May 2019 and their findings show that over the past year 21% of people asked had chosen to reduce the number of flights they were taking, due to the climate crisis. Further research also revealed that 16% of Brits had avoided flying over the last year. Across the pond, 24% of people in the US had opted to stop flying entirely, all due to environmental concerns.

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Enter the term "flight shame" which derives from the Swedish phrase "flygskam" and is thought to be spreading, making travellers seek alternative ways of travelling. 

The Swiss bank also suggested high-profile climate campaigns and efforts could be contributing to the figures. On the 23rd of September, the world watched on as 16-year-old Greta Thunberg sailed to the U.N. summit in New York on a yacht. The teenage activist hit back at world leaders about the current rising global warming issues. Condemning leaders, she delivered an emotive speech saying: "The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you." Though the latest UBS statistics are promising, some high-profile figures are yet to catch-up. Just last month, a video surfaced of Kanye West and DJ Khaled exchanging Yeezy trainers on the tarmac - then heading off separately to board their private planes. 

Flying seems like less of an option we can rely on in the future. Back in May, former chief scientific adviser, Professor Sir David King warned: "The next 10 years will determine the future of humanity."

But, what is reality like for non-fliers?
Ahead, we spoke to three women who have turned their backs on flying in order to be kinder to the planet.

Mikaela, 21, Edinburgh

What made you want to stop flying? 
It was a combination of things. I've been vegan for five years and I'm trying to live a really low impact lifestyle. It was through seeing Greta Thunberg's activism and the actions of close friends really highlighted the impact of flying how much of a privilege it is to be able to do so.

What methods of travel do you take instead?
I wouldn't say I'd completely never fly again. But for now, I'm not. I went on holiday to France with my partner in the summer and we went by train. It can take a bit longer but travelling to France by train used 99% less carbon than if we'd had taken a flight, so it was worth it.

When was your first trip after ditching flying? Where did you go?
France was my first trip. Prior to that I had taken non-flying trips with family camping etc. As I got older and flights got cheaper, I would think I'd just book a cheap European flight. But this time was the first time I'd made a choice not to fly, based on the environmental impact rather than convenience.

How has it impacted your work/social life?
I go to uni in Edinburgh and family lives in surrey, so flying to Gatwick from Edinburgh would be very convenient but I don't want to do that anymore. Domestic flights are incredibly wasteful. The difficulty is a lot of my family is in Jamaica, so never flying again would mean I'd never see my grandparents again. I think I would fly to Jamaica to see them again but I am no longer going to take long haul flights to go travelling anymore.

Does planning your trips take longer than usual?
When we went to the South of France it was more expensive than flying, but we broke up our journey and stopped off in Paris to break it up. You can use snap Eurostar, which means you have booked your tickets a few weeks in advance and you can get cheaper tickets, plus a railcard helps too.

Does it limit your destination list? 
Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro has been on my bucket list forever. I've only recently started trying not to fly, a part of me was sad about potentially not being to do it, but that is a privilege. If what I want is to see a world where we reduce our emissions and flying, I have to act that out in someway. There's beautiful nature on our doorsteps.
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Roberta, 26, London

What made you want to stop flying?
After the release of the IPCC report warning us that we only have 12 years to save the planet I have been trying to actively change my lifestyle to do all that I can to minimise the effects of anthropogenic climate change.
Western societies have contributed the most to climate change, however climate breakdown effects us the slowest - it is estimated that more than 140 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America will be displaced by 2050, due to climate breakdown. 

What methods of travel do you take instead? 
I have been looking into trains, but as of yet I haven't ventured out of the UK as sadly the prices are so expensive compared to flying.

When was your first trip after ditching flying? Where did you go?
I went to St Ives this summer with friends instead of a cheap holiday in Europe. 
 
How has it impacted your work/social life?
I have turned down two holidays with friends this year - but I actually haven't told them that it's because I can't justify flying. Although my friends do care about environmental issues, I think that sometimes (some of them) see my approach as quite radical.

Does planning your trips take longer than usual?
I was looking at getting the train to Italy and Spain this summer to join friends but opted out of it because it was so expensive. Again, this is an issue of privilege - it costs more money and takes more time. Sadly this isn't an accessible way to travel for a lot of people.
 
Does it limit your destination list?
Yes and no. I hate the thought of never been able to visit any countries that have been on my list for a long time. But I can say I probably won't ever feel comfortable with flying to Europe again.
Maria, 37, Spain

What made you want to stop flying?

I got really stressed about the climate crisis last summer, especially as I have a two year old son, and tried to do everything I could to cut my own carbon footprint, but wanted to do more. Then I read a Guardian article about Flight Free and got in touch to see if I could help. 

What methods of travel do you take instead? 
Train or car, though I try to take the train most often. 

When was your first trip after ditching flying? Where did you go?
I stopped flying back in 2015 but decided not to go back to it for environmental reasons at the beginning of this year. I had a baby in July 2017 so haven't done lots of travelling since then except to go back to England (where I'm from) to visit family, or to the south of Spain on holiday. 

How has it impacted your work/social life?
We can't go to my husband's friend's wedding at the end of next year because it's in Mexico. We told them we don't fly any more. Luckily the stag do has been arranged for the UK so he can still go to that. 
One thing I find really difficult is that my parents and my in-laws fly over to see us and their grandson. I want to ask them not to come unless they get the train, because I know the impact flying will have on my son's future, but at the same time I know how much he enjoys seeing them.

Does planning your trips take longer than usual?
Planning really doesn't take long. I use the website loco2, where I can book the whole journey in one go. I don't have to pay for my luggage. In the summer it cost me €87 from Biarritz to London and €160 coming back, so it really depends on the time of year.

Does it limit your destination list?
Yes, although at the moment that doesn't bother me. It frustrates me sometimes to hear about other people's amazing holidays, because they aren't bothered about the environmental impacts of flying. My in-laws recently went on a safari holiday in Botswana but they have no problem with it, so only some people are making the sacrifice. 
Londiwe, 26, London

What made you want to stop flying? 
The growing awareness I have about how it is affecting our planet. I haven’t bought into fast fashion for several years, making conscious food choices when I can. I decided not to drive to reduce my carbon footprint but I didn’t realise that all of this essentially is pointless if it’s not being applied to such detrimental choices like flying that are truly costing us our planet.

What methods of travel do you take instead?
I have been inspired by a couple of friends recently who are cycling to India. It's phenomenal! I would love to do something like this or travel around with trains and just go exploring nearer than farther. I just think there are so many wonderful adventures to be had along the way - it’s the journey that always counts the most anyway.

When was your first trip after ditching flying? Where did you go?
I did a road trip last year (my boyfriend drove!) to Portugal and I enjoyed it more than any other trip. It was so freeing and we felt more connected to the trip because we had much better understanding of how much we’d travelled.

How has it impacted your work/social life?
I have to travel a bit for work but that’s always limited to one to two trips a year, the Eurostar is a great alternative for work trips.  

Does planning your trips take longer than usual? Is it more expensive?
Airlines are getting more and more expensive and we always think that we have no other options but if we take travel into our own hands I think we could be having more incredible trips at less cost.

Does it limit your destination list?
Yes, but have I been everywhere that’s walking/cycling/train distance around me? Definitely not. So in hindsight not at all! 
Anna, 36, London

What made you want to stop flying?
Flying is the most carbon-heavy activity people can undertake. If you fly, that will make up the largest part of your carbon footprint. We have been told that a sustainable carbon footprint is 2.3 tonnes each per year (according to IPCC recommendations). If you fly transatlantic you’ve used up your entire carbon budget with one flight. So if you are flying multiple times a year you’re completely blowing your carbon budget.

What methods of travel do you take instead? 
I travel by train, boat and bicycle. Sometimes by coach. 

When was your first trip after ditching flying? Where did you go?
It might have been to Jersey by Sea Cat (a catamaran). My first trip abroad after that was Amsterdam I think, and I took the train/ferry.

How has it impacted your work/social life?
It hasn’t impacted my work life at all (I’ve never been asked to fly for any job I do). It has only impacted my social life once, last year, when I didn’t go to a close friend’s hen do.

Does planning your trips take longer than usual?
For me, the ‘usual’ is not flying. It takes as long as it takes to book a train ticket, which isn’t long. It can be more expensive to travel overland, but not always. e.g. I went to Dublin this year for £49 rail & sail. That’s cheaper than the cheapest flight I could find for that weekend. Often the price of not flying is very close to the cost of flying.

Does it limit your destination list?
It doesn’t really limit my destination list as I know there are so many amazing places to go that I can easily reach by train, boat or bike. Even the UK has some incredible destinations. I can reach any part of Europe and even northern Africa if I chose. And if I decided to go further, I could still go, it would just take a long time.
Katie, 30, Oxford

What made you want to stop flying? 
A combination of flight anxiety (I hate flying, airports, having to arrive super early, basically everything involved in getting an aeroplane) and eco-consciousness.
 
What methods of travel do you take instead? If in a big group or going somewhere very rural: driving. If not, trains! Or coaches if I am broke. 
 
When was your first trip after ditching flying? Where did you go? 
I normally go overseas 1-2 times a year, but haven't been abroad since trying to completely ditch flying 18 months ago. I've taken some staycations to North Yorkshire and the West Country and I am currently planning a trip to Aachen in Germany as it's only four hours from London by train. I'm also looking at going to Munich next year.
 
How has it impacted your work/social life? 
I am lucky in that most of my friends and family are in the UK and western Europe, and travelling isn't necessary for my work. I don't think it's a huge sacrifice for me like it would be for someone with family across the globe.

Does planning your trips take longer than usual?
Since I am only planning to go to western Europe in the near future, I find planning way less stressful. The train is a little more expensive, although they usually leave at more reasonable times than budget airlines, so you don't need to be in an airport at 4am. It's not always as pricey as you think, though, if you book a couple of months in advance. Coaches are extremely cheap, but less comfortable and much longer, so you have to compromise between these two considerations. 
 
Does it limit your destination list? 
Yes. I am on a fairly low income, so cruises and very long distance travel isn't really an option for me right now. 
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Alice, 27, London

What made you want to stop flying? 
The RATP website (for travel in Paris, it's a bit like TfL app) gives the CO2 footprint of your journey by car, public transport or bike. I had a fit (proverbial) when I saw how many more kilos of carbon dioxide were emitted by car over the other methods.  I googled how much CO2 a short-haul flight cost to Southern Europe against going via train and I was disgusted and embarrassed. I felt it my duty to boycott plane travel.

What methods of travel do you take instead?
I don't have a car so I always take buses and less often, Tube and train in London. 

When was your first trip after ditching flying? Where did you go?
This summer I went to Southern France.  I took the train and coach all the way there and back. 

How has it impacted your work/social life?
To be frank, my work and social life come second to my respect towards the environment. Rather, it is my work/social life which needs to fit into my idea of how to live in an environmentally-respectful way.  I try to live in as sustainable a way as I can without depriving myself too much. 

Does planning your trips take longer than usual?
Yes. I trawl for hours through different European coach websites to get the cheapest prices for the shortest journey.  I am quite a stickler for not being screwed over. The SNCF (national-owned French rail company) are significantly dearer per kilometre than before (10 years ago), which is a real shame.  People can't go on holiday both cheaply AND comfortably/safely/in a short space of time which I think is really bad.

Does it limit your destination list? 
Yes, I suppose it does but I have no inclination to go on long-haul flights at the current time. Also, the more young people we have who are inspirational by travelling like Greta Thunberg (who didn't fly to her conference), the higher the demand for travelling sustainably; so, the industry will have to provide those methods more regularly, cheaply, readily to keep up with the youth of today.
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