According to climate change experts, there are around 9 main things we can all do collectively, to help prevent global warming. Nobody is suggesting never getting on a plane again, but one of those is to fly less. So consider other modes of transport (boat, train – or using laptops to hold virtual meetings rather than flying across the world, just to sign a document). And if you do fly now and then, there are many things that we can do to make flying a little bit greener.
Why is flying so damaging? Mostly due to the carbon emissions from jet fuel. And until we have solar-powered planes (!), there is not much we can do about that, other than fly less. But one big way to help is to try to fly direct (unless you’re going to New Zealand, that would be daft!) But there are plenty of direct routes for shorter flights (taking off and landing uses most fuel). Amsterdam station can take you to most cities in Europe, within a few hours.
Another big way to help is to try to fly economy (again for long-haul, it’s understandable if you can afford it to get more leg-room and comfortable seats to sleep in). But a lot of the service offered is just a posher meal, and a bit more TLC from cabin crew). The reason why environmentalists say to fly economy more, is that ferrying more people in one plane, obviously uses less emissions. So offering business class to most of one plane (say for a commuter journey to Amsterdam) means far less bums on seats! And that means more planes are needed. If you want a decent meal, just order a VGML (vegan) as not only is it ethically better, but the orders are farmed out to proper chefs.
Forget the add-ons if you can (nobody needs plastic packs of pretzels or hot towels (these come wrapped in plastic, and the steward just pours boiling water over them, then throws the plastic tray away). Just take a few luxuries of your own like a comfy head pillow and something good to read. Likewise in the departure lounge, forgo the expensive fast food and bookstores, and take your own packed lunch and reusable water bottle, along with a good novel to read, in case of long delays.
Are there any greener airlines? Not really, though a few are trying. The ones to boycott are those that still transport kidnapped wild animals to take them to zoos or vivisection labs (at present, the main ones that still do this are Air France and Aeroflot). Unless necessary, it’s best to not let companion animals travel on planes (vets say not to tranquillise for medical reasons, but pets are likely terrified in the cargo hold where most have to go). Find a good relative, friend or petsitter.
Europe’s busiest airport
A village is not what you would associate with Heathrow Airport, but there are three (Harmondsworth, Sipson and Harlington) whose residents likely have a lot of noise. When it first opened, Heathrow was a fairly small airport, but is now Europe’s busiest, and has more international passengers than anywhere on earth. It presently has 2 runways and there has been contention over plans for a third.
A 2021 report found that Heathrow is not just the second most polluting airport in the world (after Dubai International), but it’s the most polluting place in all of England. The borough is also home to the headquarters of British Airways (if the third runway goes ahead at Heathrow, its Waterside building is expected to be demolished).
If you live near Heathrow and are affected by noise, the website does have helpful information. And a surprising amount of free help – from financial help for insulation or even moving home, and you can also report damage to your roof from fallen ice or vortex (swirling air).
The most popular destinations from Heathrow are all pretty far away except for Dublin. The Man in Seat 61 suggests a leisurely train ride up to Holyhead, then a nice ‘ferry cruise’ from Holyhead to Dublin. He says the ship is ‘rock steady’ which is progress from the past, when it was a notoriously seasick-inducing trip, with ‘waves flying past the window’. But he says the trip is a treat, with the ferry hardly ever having missed a sailing. And you can upgrade to sail in style, with wine and canapés!
Heathrow Airport has a long history of incidents including the arrest of the man who shot Martin Luther King Jr (he was trying to leave the UK on a false Canadian passport). And of course the flight that was blown up over Lockerbie was on a journey to New York from Heathrow.
tips for the eco-friendly traveller
The Green Edit (Travel) is a super little guide on how to lessen our impact on the world, without giving up things we love. If you wish to still travel, this is the book for you. It doesn’t mean never taking another flight or spending holidays camping in your abck garden.
The book is a short expert guide that takes you through every aspect of planning your trip, from booking to boarding. And arms you with all you need for a lower-impact getaway. From knowing which plane to take (yes, some are greener than others) or how to avoid the mini-toiletries trap, save the planet yet still live life to the full.
Juliet Kinsman is a travel writer who has written for Conde Nest Traveller and The Telegraph. She is founder of Bouteco, a curation of boutique hotels that are making a positive change.
a smarter way to find parking spaces
JustPark is a far smarter way to find a parking space if you drive. Rather than pay big car parks huge amounts of money to park at airport, you simply join up and use the app to find people who earn passive income, to rent out their garage, driveway or even small offices (or spare spaces in hotel car parks) that have empty spaces at weekends or in low season. They earn money from space that’s not being used, and you save a fortune on parking spaces. Sometimes it costs more to park your car at the airport, than it does to go on holiday.
Councils are always saying they don’t have any money – so why don’t they use this app to rent out their extensive council car parks at weekends (when most staff are not working)? The general public could save a fortune, and it’s a no-brainer way for them to earn cash – JustPark works with forward-thinking authorities to do just this. Some parking space owners are earning up to £4K passive income per year. Just think how much money councils could earn if they rented out unused spaces at weekends, which could then be spent on community projects like walkable communities and litter clean-ups.
Just enter the postcode and the app will find hundreds of nearby spaces ready to rent out. You’ll save 30% on average. Trusted by millions, just look up where you need to park and then pay in advance by app or online. You can also rent (or rent out) EV charging spaces.
Parking is not designed very well in England. In the USA, parking spaces are all on the diagonal which means it’s easier to get out of tight spots, so you’re less likely to prang your car. Also councils tend to charge for parking (and often don’t give change).
80 sustainable no-fly holidays
Flight-Free Europe (2023) is an inspiring Lonely Planet travel guide, offering 80 no-fly itinaries, featuring trips that range from a weekend to a month. Learn how to avoid chaotic airports and reduce the carbon footprint of your travel with detailed route maps and transport connection for buses and ferries. Learn more on going greener at the airport.
- Embark on a Norwegian rail odyssey
- Island-hop across Croatia by ferry
- Hike into the wild heartlands of Scotland
- Combine wine, surf & cycling on France’s coast
Each itinerary is plotted step-by-step with a map of transport to get to each destination, along with details of the durations. Wehther you’re looking for a city escape or exploring natural wonders, there’s expert help along the way.
Includes vibrant photography, a map and fact box about each trip’s carbon count, suggested duration and transport budget. Other countries covered include:
Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Morocco, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey and Wales.