The French Short-Haul Ban – Common Sense, Surely?

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We don’t really do “opinion pieces” on InsideFlyer and, despite my regular pleading with our editor to allow me to replicate Loyalty Lobby’s “Whine Wednesday”, we are also fairly limited in our ranting. However, I am aware that we are a website that essentially promotes “frequent flying”, and in light of that could be accused, to a degree, of playing a role in the great environmental destruction of our planet.

So allow me to very gently set out why I think the French short-haul flight ban is exactly the kind of step we need to be taking…

Warning: contains scenes of self-righteousness

My general thoughts on climate change are that we as individuals do have a duty to try and reduce our carbon footprint, and moderate the fairly reckless approach that society has allowed (and indeed encouraged) us to take towards our environment. The problem often is that rectifying this behaviour can be bloody difficult. So, where there is any “easy win” in the fight to, basically, save our planet,  I think it is essential we make the most of it.

I am therefore entirely comfortable with the new French law banning internal flights, if the trip can be completed by train within 2.5 hours instead. Not only does that strike me as a good way to reduce the carbon we’re pumping into the air, it also strikes me just as the much better idea, for anyone.

Even ignoring the detriment to our environment, I really struggle with why people bother with short-haul flights where the train is a viable alternative. Flights are so logistically challenging – far-flung airports, check-in times, security, boarding times, baggage loading and unloading etc. Compare that to a train where you just get on with your suitcase when it arrives, then get off. I don’t really see how there’s any sort of comparison.

france flight ban
Courtesy of GWR

It’s also just a much nicer, more comfortable way to travel. Even the more pampered business class is rarely particularly comfortable on a short-haul flight: certainly compared to a train.

As an example, I find it mind-boggling that anyone would fly from London to Paris, when there’s the option of the Eurostar. I appreciate this flight route is, obviously, not a route covered by the French ban, but I don’t fully comprehend why simple practicalities don’t effectively rule it out as an option.

france flight ban
Courtesy of Eurostar

On that basis, I see the new French law as common sense not just from the perspective of climate change, but also based purely on the more convenient option.

The one concession I will make to the “ultra short-haul” flight is that in certain circumstances they are a necessary part of a longer-haul trip. So, for example, you take a flight from the UK regions to Heathrow, then onwards from Heathrow to Asia. Given the connections and lugging around of suitcases that might otherwise be involved in a train ride here, I can see the science behind the shorter flights in these circumstances.

The key condition: affordability

Ok, I’m not going to go on and on. However, there is one mitigating factor for the short-haul flight junkies, and that is cost. It’s criminal that a train journey can often end up being substantially more expensive than a short-haul flight between the same points. While I would argue that there’s a number of hidden costs to a flight that you must factor in (e.g. travel to/from airport), it really is not acceptable that you can pay pennies for short-haul flights but be hugely out of pocket on train journeys.

I think the London to Newquay flights, for example, are totally unnecessary. However, when you look at the prices of the GWR train journeys down to Cornwall, you start to realise why people take them.

france flight ban

You can easily end up paying in excess of £300 for a standard class return to Newquay in the summer. That’s frankly outrageous, and a major factor in why many people will choose to fly. Although, you will earn Nectar points…

So, governments should encourage train journeys over short haul flights. But in doing so, they also have a responsibility to divert resources into making them efficient, comfortable and affordable.

(Cover image courtesy of Air France)


  1. Ben Dover says

    As you say, it’s all down to affordability.

    I recall a story about a chap who commuted everyday from somewhere in Southern England to Scotland for a week (can’t recall if was temporary job or a course) as had to be home overnight as his wife was heavily pregnant and wanted him at home at night. He found it a fraction of the cost to fly everyday via Spain to Scotland and back than use the train.
    As always, things in the UK are wildly overpriced. Perhaps something to do with foreign companies owning most of our trainlines and subsidising their domestic rail by overcharging on ours.

    • Tom Sumner says

      Yeah I recall one of the journalists at MoneySavingExpert travelling from the Midlands to London (or something similar) via mainland Europe, because it was cheaper than getting the train. Needless to say he got a lot of heat from the environmentalists, but I think he was making a point rather than actually encouraging others to do the same.

  2. Doc says

    Great in principle but trains and its connection needs to be better and the cost definitely has to improve, certainly in the UK.
    Living near Manchester, I prefer to take the train if I travel to centre of London and booking a couple of months early is certainly cheaper.
    However, sometimes the flights are considerably cheaper and I have done Manchester to Edinburgh (in Flybe days), Manchester to Exeter and also Manchester to Heathrow when the train was prohibitedly expensive.
    Also if I want to travel to Heathrow, trains are a non starter since I have to travel to Euston, lug the luggage to either Euston Square to travel to Paddington to take the Heathrow express or lug it to Kings Cross to get the Piccadilly line to Heathrow. So the cost of flying from Manchester to Heathrow is cheaper and more time effective and certainly less of a hassle.
    But if the government instead of constantly putting prices up, actually make it more affordable, people will prefer to take the train.

  3. cinereus says

    “It’s criminal that a train journey can often end up being substantially more expensive than a short-haul flight between the same points”

    This is the key point (as ever).

    And I’m a travel junkie but I could never ethically justify taking a short-haul flight. And train journeys are vastly underrated by people who read travel blogs anyway.

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