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How much does my budget air travel addiction really cost?


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It is no secret that I, like many of my friends, am a serial cheap flight seeker.

In the last year I have been living in Barcelona, and with easy access to a large international airport I couldn’t help but take advantage of ridiculously cheap flights to travel across Spain and Europe. Paris, Palma Mallorca, Dublin, Seville and Ibiza, just to name a few trips. My cheapest return flights came in at €7.98  and my most expensive at €65, making it easy to see why air travel triumphs over lengthy and expensive land travel.  

Ryanair B737-800 EI-DWC

Image Credit: Andy Mitchell on Flickr

However, last week Ryanair made the headlines, after achieving 10th position in Europe´s largest contributors to carbon emissions. It is the first time a company who does not run a coal-fueled power plant has ascended to the top rankings. The data was found as part of The European Commission's European Transport and Environment Group.  

The pride of my budget bubble had been burst and I felt a twinge of guilt, realising that my selfish addiction to booking cheap flights with Ryanair and similar carriers was an alarmingly large contributor to climate change. My consciousness was compounded after listening to a Guardian interview with Greta Thunberg-the Swedish teenager and founder of School Strike for Climate-who herself vows never to take planes, opting for 30-hour train journeys instead. 

Ryanair claims, in direct contradiction, on their website that they are the largest and greenest airline in Europe. We surpass all of our competitors when it comes to carbon emissions per kilometer per passenger”.  However, data published in March suggests that EasyJet is the best airline for attempting and achieving to reduce carbon emissions, with the lowest emissions per kilometre per passenger.  

Yet, it is important to be aware that evaluating carbon emissions, per passenger, per kilometre can be misleading; it does not consider baggage, or the totality of air travel compared to not travelling by air.  

Aviation travel creates 12% of transport-related emissions. However, it is forecasted that airline travel could soon overtake large fossil fuel giants.  Each day 5 million barrels of oil are guzzled by planes across the world, contributing a total 2.5% carbon emissions. Alarmingly this figure is set to rise to 22% by 2050.   

Establishments such as the European Union, with its Emissions Trading System (ETS) set up in 2005 and Aviation Committees have been attempting to regulate Carbon Emissions produced by air travel, by enforcing quotas and hefty fines. Yet arguably it is not enough placing all the responsibility on the companies.  


Image Credit: Pixabay from Pexels

Southampton University environmental sociologist Roger Tyers highlights the socio-political denial of responsibility when it comes to air travel. Politicians, NGO´s and consumers all shy away from the reality of budget airline travel, due to the hypocrisy that it is beneficial to these groups. He reiterates that flying is kept artificially cheap, while trains and cars become more expensive”. Subsequently, in the absence of viable alternatives, cheap fares will prevail, and politicians will feel no incentive to push policy change.   

 Dubbed generation easyjet the lifestyle that budget airlines promote-hopping to a new euro destination every other week-is partly responsible for assisting the consumer demand, who expect cheap fares, without a regard for their carbon footprint. The future seems bleak with many researchers arguing that personal responsibility and accountability is where we should begin to tackle this issue. A seemingly simple option is to fly less.  

Unfortunately, the reality is that very few are willing to sacrifice the ease and pleasure of cheap budget flights, to reduce their carbon emissions. I too am guilty of this hypocrisy, like many of my generation I am concerned about the environment, but apparently not enough to never buy a budget flight ever again...When it is cheaper to fly to Ibiza than take a day trip by train to a nearby city,which one  would you choose?  


Lead Image: Free-Photos on Pixabay

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