2007 - 2021

Air Travel and the Global Virus

New Zealand has been rightly lauded for its handling of the corona virus.  A small country with control of its borders and a pragmatic progressive leader was able to produce a world-leading response. Now New Zealand has recorded its first new cases of coronavirus for 24 days after two women who arrived in the country from Britain were found to be infected. The case raises profound questions about our governments response to the crisis, the widespread failure to realise the magnitude of what we are facing and the desperate need to re-think our attitudes to travel.

The total known #Covid19 death toll is now at 52,233 across the UK. In reality it’s likely to be far higher. The extraordinary plans for returning to school seem to point us in the direction of a very changed economy, major cultural institutions (like Heart of Midlothian FC, Partick Thistle FC or the Lyceum Theatre – and many others – face terminal closure) yet we act as if nothing has really changed.

Instead of facing this there is a cacophony for a shift to one metre distancing and “opening up the economy”. Instead of resisting this and questioning what is going on we are more likely to be complicit in the virus’s resurgence because we’re a bit bored.

Yesterday EasyJet started flying from London to Glasgow again. Reports from the flights said that the experience appeared no different from a pre-pandemic flight, barring the facemasks and the lack of drinks or food on sale.

Dr Michael Fonso, EasyJet’s chief medical adviser, said simply: “Social distancing is simply not practical on a plane.”

John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK, pointed out that the airline had lobbied against green taxes to repair climate damage and was now “taking to the air again with a no-strings £600m loan”.

“It’s time the government introduced a frequent flyer levy as part of a green recovery programme,” he said.

It’s beyond that time and that in itself seems inadequate. It seems we will be unable to move forward from this unless we face up against globalisation. Instead we are bailing out its worst aspects.

Indeed as Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party notes at the same time as there is no money in England to give children school meals over the summer holidays: Ryanair and Easyjet got £600m bailout each, BA got £300, Nissan £600m, Toyota £365m and Rolls Royce £300m.

The virus is a global phenomenon and globalisation and cheap air travel are its carriers.


See also:
On the Night Train – the case for sleeper trains replacing international air travel?
Travel Futures on the alternative of Sail Cargo



This is true of internal flights and long-haul flights. But its also true when we think of possible routes out of this of how we create resilient cities.

In Ireland Eamon Ryan, leader of Ireland’s Green Party, has secured a substantial financial settlement for “active travel” (walking and cycling). For the next five years, cycling and walking schemes—including protected cycling networks and expanded sidewalks—will receive €360 million annually. A whopping 20% of Ireland’s transport budget will go to walking and cycling while two-thirds of the rest will go to public transit.

Asked about his plans for transport cycling, Ryan told Ireland’s Mail on Sunday: “Why not be ambitious? Dublin, Cork, Waterford and Limerick should be like Copenhagen and Amsterdam.” “Even cities famous for the car,” he added, “are pulling up highways and putting up Metros. Paris has completely changed in terms of how they do transport, so let’s go like Paris.”

We covered the plans for the 15 Minute City here.

In Scotland we could and should emulate this shift and more.

There are options everywhere. But we must be much bolder in both our demands of our governments and of our own behaviour change instead of staying in denial and rushing back to the broken old system.

As Flight Free UK say: “This graphic by University of Edinburgh Sustainability (see above) compares rail and air routes from Edinburgh – in almost every case, money and time comes out equal. The glaring difference is in the emissions.”

Everywhere we see that the solutions to climate crisis are the same as the solution to containing the virus and creating a liveable planet:

Comments (11)

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  1. Alex Kashko says:

    I see the hair shirt brigade are at it again.

    This post annoyed me.

    I agree more LOCAL travel should be by bike and bus. The problem is long distance travel. ( define long distance)

    I have family on the other side of the world. You do not want me to visit them? You do not want me and others to see how things are done in other countries, perhaps better? You want me to stay in the UK with its Brexiteer gammon? You want such airlines as survive to raise prices so high only our Tory lords and masters can afford to travel?

    You want people to stop travelling and ruin the economy even more than the Tories have done?

    right lets look at these points above

    1. Stay Home: narrow your mind

    3. Where is the evidence for this statement? How reliable is it? Counter evidence? I will research later but winder if the evidence has been cherry picked.

    4. Define necessary?

    5. Evidence?

    My ideal scenario?

    a) UBI for everyone so working is optional

    b) Make the journey part of the holiday: at the moment working people do not want to take three weeks getting to a long haul destination and three weeks back by train ( much more expensive – fares should be capped) when they get less than that as paid leave. With UBI that problem will go.

    c) pressure the airlines to speed up development of emission free planes and also pressurise government to fund the research. Stop moaning about emissions by planes when cars and Trains IN TOTAL probably far exceed those of planes.

    Stop parroting old narrow solutions and think sideways.

    Still annoyed.

    1. I think as it dawns on people that a viable future cant include endless cheap air travel lots of people will be annoyed Alex. It doesnt change that reality however. What we have written suggests that all forms of transport need to be decarbonised and within a very tight timeframe.

      Suggestions like “pressure the airlines to speed up development of emission free planes” sounds like a nice wee fantasy.

      You should read these, they’ll probably annoy you too:



    2. Wul says:

      “I have family on the other side of the world. You do not want me to visit them?”

      I have family on the other side of Glasgow that I can’t visit because a virus arrived here by aeroplane. What will I do when Covids 23 or 26 arrive? Shall I keep supporting your birth right to freely fly about the the planet at 600mph, 8 miles up in the sky?

      1. Alex Kashko says:

        I am talking about normal times.

        And restricting travel is exactly want dictatorships do.

        I can’t visit MY family in Scotland either.

        1. Wul says:

          “…restricting travel is exactly want dictatorships do.”

          The article doesn’t propose a travel ban, it suggests using less polluting transport to get to your destination. Living within limits, set by yourself, voluntarily is a possibility.

          For example; visiting family 10,000 miles away, by jet aircraft once a year might be seen as a more reasonable reason to burn aviation fuel than regular weekend City Breaks around Europe by plane.

    3. SleepingDog says:

      @Alex Kashko, claiming the right to fly to visit your family on the other side of the globe seems like the epitome of narrow-mindedness to me (oh, and if anyone’s family has moved to the other side of the globe from them, please take the hint). How would you support the right of everyone to fly around the globe visiting family members or migrating to new countries? And if you did not support that mass right to air transit, how would you recommend rationing it?

      By the way, what exactly is your definition of ‘normal times’, considering that the world continues to under accelerating and often unpredictable changes which have transformed the lived experiences of most people on the planet over the past few generations? Not to mention non-human lives.

      1. Alex kashko says:

        Something about your comment led me to feel fear for my family.I

        I am therefore out of this discussion.

  2. Jon Lisle-Summers says:

    I would only support expansion of cycling if:
    (1) Cyclists obey the rules of the road by
    (a) obeying red lights at junctions
    (b) not riding on pavements intended for pedestrians
    (2) Cyclists pass the equivalent of a motorist’s compulsory Driving Test
    (3) Carry proof of having passed the Cycling Test.
    I’m a partly deaf pedestrian. I have been injured once by a cyclist and knocked over three times. I can’t hear you riding up behind me…

  3. Domhnall M Dods says:

    That graphic is misleading. I switched last October from flying to London to using the train (I’m down there every week normally). The train is roughly double the cost. It also takes longer and I need to get up at 0430 rather than 0530.i get home later but I find it less tiring and I get more work done. I drive an electric car to the station (no public transport at 0430) so the end to end journey is electric

    But there’s no way it is cheaper. Air is currently a lot cheaper.

    1. Wul says:

      “The train is roughly double the cost.”

      I’d really, really like to know why this is?

      How can an inter-city train with 500 passengers, powered by a national electricity grid, operating on a mostly flat track and heavily subsidised ( £5bn/yr) by pubic spending, be a more expensive way to travel than by aeroplane with 200 passengers being launched to 25,000ft, via oil fired jets, millions of pounds of technology in each short-life-span vehicle and with a profit to make and shareholders to pay?

      There’s something here that simply doesn’t add up. Either rail passengers are being fleeced or air travel has massive, hidden public subsidies.

      And public subsidy of railways is now three times what it was before railways were “privatised”.

      1. Alex Kashko says:

        Thanks for putting my thoughts into words.

        Perhaps the railtrack operators are simply greedier, having a monopoly of infrastructure whereas there is competition to run trans on their tracks?

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