Responsible Travel Plans to Ban All Short-Haul Jet Flights

Any flights of under one hour will be scrapped from its 6,000 trips.

airplane takeoff

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Responsible Travel is a UK-based travel company that has always done things differently. For years it has recognized that some people want to see the world at a slower pace, taking their time to move between places and absorb unusual and unexpected experiences along the way. It has long offered alternatives to airplanes, such as rail, bus, and boat transfers, but now it is taking that one step further.

The company just announced that it will ban all short-haul jet flights of less than one hour in length, starting in January 2022. It believes that this is a crucial step toward decarbonizing travel and helping nature, while simultaneously offering a rewarding experience for the traveler, as they'll still be able to get from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time, only using different forms of transportation. 

"The inescapable truth is that we have to fly less," says Justin Francis, founder and CEO of Responsible Travel, in a press release. "As individuals, of course we can make that choice—but business needs to shoulder its share of responsibility. We have to shelve the myth that we can offset our way out of the climate crisis; that’s not a solution to reducing emissions, it’s false advertising designed to perpetuate flying as usual."

Carbon offsets don't do the job well enough, Responsible Travel has always asserted, which is why it ditched them in 2009. From a release:

"Carbon offset schemes have long been touted as the get-out-of-jail-free card when it comes to our holidays. Other travel companies will tell you that we can simply pay for trees to be planted—in essence, pass on our carbon debt to someone else. However, trees take a long time to grow and absorb the carbon from our flights. Too long. The inescapable truth for us is that we urgently need less carbon going into our atmosphere right now. The only option is to fly less."

When asked by Treehugger whether travelers are already showing increased interest in slower forms of travel, Francis responded that there's been a marked shift:

"When we launched 20 years ago, the concept of responsible tourism was pretty well unheard of. Awareness has grown hugely, particularly over the last few years. The challenge is that low cost aviation is so cheap and tempting, partly because aviation fuel is not taxed, and it’s one of the reasons we’ve campaigned for the Green Flying Duty

"But carbon offsetting has also been a stumbling block. There’s a strong incentive for travel and aviation to promote this idea that unlimited expansion is sustainable, that we can continue to fly as much or even more than we are, and just offset our impacts. That’s not true, and it’s really damaging."

Francis goes on to tell Treehugger that people are opting for slower travel not necessarily because it's more sustainable, but because it's a superior travel experience. After the past two years, many people are eager to book longer, once-in-a-lifetime trips. 

"When you’re going for longer, the journey can become part of the holiday, rather than just a means of transport," he explains. "Taking the train or a boat, or even public transport adds to the adventure. Our new flight-free round the world trip gained huge interest, and we’re seeing more and more bookings for ‘rail and sea’ adventures." People are also willing to go for longer because of the pandemic-related precautions that make travel more complicated. All the effort required to go somewhere needs to be worthwhile.

Francis hopes this trend will settle into something permanent: "Hopefully when [people] see all the benefits of longer holidays—more time to properly relax, more money going into a local economy (if you book with a responsible company), and fewer flights—it’ll evolve into a norm."

Why isn't Responsible Travel banning long-haul flights, you may wonder? Because it has customers all around the world, and what's long-haul to one person is local to another. And there is much good to be done by tourism, particularly when led by a conscientious company. It provides crucial incomes to individuals and communities and funds nature preservation efforts. Tourism dollars often build schools and health clinics, educate women, and give marginalized people a voice. They're an important component of the global push to protect 30% of the planet from harm.

Tourism itself is not the enemy—it's how we do it that's the problem—and that is why announcements like this short-haul flight ban are major steps in the right direction.