diamond geezer

 Sunday, July 07, 2019

There is a school of thought, a radical environmental school, which says everyone should be restricted to one flight a year. To clarify, that's one return flight a year, otherwise travel might get awkward.

One way to do this would be to impose a tax on additional flights, ramping up the penalty with every successive trip to focus the impact on frequent fliers. Here's a website proposing just that. This might deter a lot of unnecessary travel and the cash raised could go to climate-friendly projects.

Obviously a lot of frequent fliers are travelling for work and their companies would simply stump up the extra. Also obviously such a tax fails to take into account how impractical some destinations are to reach by land and sea alone. Also obviously it would need global acceptance to make any significant difference, and implementing it would be impractically bureaucratically complex, so also obviously it's never going to happen.

But it did make me wonder how many flights I've taken in my lifetime, and whether it exceeds one single flight per year. So I've been doing some totting up.

1960s 2 Continental Europe

I took my first carbon-busting flight at the age of one, a Carvair from Southend to Rotterdam to see my Mum's penpal in Holland. I remember none of it, but I'm told the stewardesses fussed over me something rotten.
Total number of flights by the age of 4: 2

19700 
19710 
19720 
19732Channel Islands
19740 
1975 4 Channel Islands
19762North America
19770 
19780 
19790 

My family were ahead of the curve in the 1970s taking overseas holidays by air, especially the one where we went to Canada because almost nobody did that then. For clarity, the first Channel Island holiday was to Guernsey, one flight there, one flight back, and the second was to Alderney which required an additional short hop in a tiny prop. Carbon-wise, the Canada trip was hugely more damaging.
Total number of flights by the age of 14: 10

1980s 0  

After 1976 staycations ruled, our summer holidays generally to hilly bits of the UK, and always accessed by car or train. I did head abroad to France and Germany with the school, but we always went by coach and ferry, indeed flying would have priced the trip beyond reach. How the rise of cut-price air travel has changed the market, and public expectations, since.
Total number of flights by the age of 24: 10

1990s 2 Canary Islands

By now I was at work, and family holidays were a thing of the past. But there was one summer when my brother said hey, you must come abroad with my new family and sit by the pool in the sun, you might enjoy it. So I did, and Lanzarote was an amazing island, but I have not been minded to do something similar again. My brother's flight total is undoubtedly higher than mine.
Total number of flights by the age of 34: 12

20004North America, Ireland
20012Channel Islands
20023North America
20033North America, Continental Europe
20042North America
20050 
2006 6 North America, Scotland
20070 
20080 
20091Scotland

And then things took off. The 2000s were my Let's Fly To America decade with five trips in total, one to Florida, one to New York and three to California. BestMate had moved over there so it was the best way to keep in touch, plus even thirty-somethings enjoy the Disneyworld experience once in their life. The trips to Scotland are a little harder to justify, except to say that reaching Stornoway required two flights and wouldn't have been practical by train. If you're wondering about the odd numbers in the table, that's because I flew out just before New Year and flew back just after. One of those trips therefore dribbled into 2010, but this particular decade still exceeded 'one return flight a year'.
Total number of flights by the age of 44: 33

20101Scotland
20112Iceland
20120 
20130 
20142Isle of Man
2015 4 helicopter, Continental Europe
20160 
20170 
20180 
20191Continental Europe

And here's my latest tally. Iceland I was never going to get to without flying. The Isle of Man, I admit, I could have. 2015's helicopter flight was a once-in-a-lifetime extravagance, admittedly with far lower emissions than a jet plane but its entire carbon footprint was my fault, so that's not good. 2015 also included flights to Berlin and to Rome, which was bad, but I regained some brownie points by insisting we take the train back from Berlin which was both more sustainable and a lot more enjoyable.
Total number of flights by the age of 54: 43

So my grand total is lower than my age, meaning I haven't taken the equivalent of one flight a year, so well done me. Indeed if you consider round trips, i.e. halving the total, I'm considerably below. I suspect a lot of Britons exceed the target by some distance. Globally, only we privileged few get anywhere near.

There's a lot to be said for enjoying the country you live in, but also a lot to be said for embracing connections to the rest of the world. Our futures rest on finding a happy balance between the two.


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