Opinion: Why I'm Breaking with the Easyjet Set

Breaking up with the EasyJet set can be hard, but it's worth it.

Do you live in Berlin?  

If the answer's yes then you're probably an underemployed, liberal artist of some kind.  You probably eat local, organically-grown, fair trade products.  You almost definitely always return your bottles for the pfand (deposit).  Your flat's energy probably comes from a renewable source.  You presumably cycle from A to B, using public transport whenever you can.  Let's face it, it's probably all that you can afford.  

In other words, you don't use up that much carbon every year. So surely, you can afford to take a flight some place warm every now and then.  Right?


The assumption that flying a few times a year isn't such a bad carbon 'expense' is one that many people - myself included - are guilty of having. Until recently, I used to fly about once or twice a year from one European city to another for the same reasons everyone does: it's quick and it's cheap, and the number of agencies offering said flights outnumber all other forms of travel by 100-1.  But as more and more people that I know have been flying for almost any reason at all, and the air quality has gotten worse here in Berlin, I have started to wonder if the budget flights industry is as innocent as it seems.  So I sat down, did the math to find out what the CO2 damage would be. 

The Facts:

* A return trip from New York City to Berlin causes as much damage as putting 2 or 3 tons* of CO2 into the air, per passenger, per flight.

* On average, each person in Berlin produces about 6 tons of CO2** per year

So as it turns out, taking a single transatlantic trip would do just as much damage to the Earth as I would normally do in half a year of life in Berlin.  That's like consuming 40% more of everything that I use per year: 40% more Bratwursts, Sternis, Pall Malls, spare parts for my Diamant, hairspray, glitter, black tights, slippers, smartphone batteries, Geisha fans, fizzy water, taxis, recycling, composting, etc.  

How much it would cost in Euros to pay for 40% more of everything that you use in a year?  I'm not sure, but I'm guessing it'd cost a lot more than a return flight to New York:

But short haul flights aren't any better; in fact, they're even worse.  Because their planes fly at lower altitudes, short haul flights use more than twice as much fuel as long-haul flights.  Roughly speaking, seven hours of flying around Europe (like a return trip to Majorca) would use up as much CO2 as a return trip to New York. 

Hard to associate the CO2 cost with the actual cost when all of the flights are so cheap, though, isn't it?  The reason why flights are so cheap, however, is due to plain and simple corruption.  When the idea of carbon taxing the aviation industry was first floated, the industry raised such an outcry that it was able to successfully defer payment on its carbon taxes indefinitely.  At the same time, it continued to receive fuel subsidies to keep its fleets in the air.  The result?

From a report in the Guardian.co.uk

So basically, it seems that the people who run our trains, coaches, boats and buses and electric cars are paying more carbon tax than the airlines do, despite the fact that commercial flights account for up to 8% of all global warming and are used by just 5% of the global population.  

What gives?  How come airlines can afford to give away flights for free at a time when global oil stocks are running on empty and the skies are filling with smog?  Simply put, it's because they're scamming the system.  And every time that we buy another cheap flight, we're rewarding them for doing so.   That's why I've chosen to stop flying, and so should you.  Why should airlines  be getting a free pass to pollute at a time when everyone else is scrimping and saving to minimize their carbon footprint, myself included?  

The worst part, though, is that they’re passing on their irresponsible attitude to customers by tempting us to get on board with their nonstop flight to climate crisis.   You don't just get an unrealistic price when you buy a cheap flight, you also get an unrealistic image of the budget flight industry as a whole.  Easyjet, KLM, British Airways all depict their planes soaring through clean, blue skies over undefiled natural landscapes.  None seem touched by air pollution, oil and soot, and yet, if planes are flying there you can bet that they're covered in it.

The aviation industry hopes that you won't give a damn.  It hopes that you'll say, "Doesn't matter to me, just as long as getting there costs €24.99?!"  It hopes you'll be as short-termist and shallow as its owners are, and put a small savings over the future of the planet.  

You can prove them wrong. 

With 2015 being the hottest year on record and the second winter in a row with no snow staying on the ground in Berlin, more and more people that I meet are saying, "I know climate change is real, but what can I do to stop it?" Here's a simple answer: don't do anything. Just stop flying.  Or at the very least, stop flying as much as you do now.  As far as saving the planet, the future and everything goes, it's the least strenuous act of heroism a person could ever make. 

The world's richest 5% who can afford to fly hold a large part of the climate future in their hands
To be honest, lot of what makes my peers in Berlin fly is sheer social pressure anyway.  The concept of 'slow travel' just hasn't caught on here, yet.  When I tell people that I'm taking the train or bus to travel, they look disgusted, or full of pity.  It gets worse when I tell them that I actually love traveling that way; I imagine that the Pope must have had the same expression on his face when he was told for the first time that the earth was not flat.  It's a purely conformist choice to fly - a norm that's reinforced by cheapskate bosses who don't want to give staff a reasonable amount of time off. 

The sly humour of the term "Easyjet Set" seems to have eluded still other people that I meet, who take a genuine, snobbish pride in the idea that traveling by air puts them above the rest of us.  But take one look at the smelly, crowded, stained interior of a budget flight plane, full of irate passengers, and it's easy to see that the conditions are superior on a train or even a coach.  They have more leg room, fresh air and bigger windows.  If you ask me, people who believe in the superiority of budget plane travel are spending more time looking at the brochures than they are at the world around them.  That's a bit sad.  Looking at the world is the whole point of traveling after all, isn't it?

Air travel minimizes your exposure to other people, the landscape, and the reality of the place you're in.  And in a plane, you never have the option to take an adventure by changing your plans or stepping outside.  

More sad is the fact that budget air travel puts up more barriers between fellow travelers who are headed the same way.  Why bother talking to the person you're squashed up against for a few hours when you'll never see them again, and all you can think about is getting away?  

When I pass through hostels for my work, I see dozens of backpackers forlornly tapping on their smartphones, all alone in lobbies.  Too bad they didn't take the slow way, I always think, and leave room for those unexpected friendships to form that can only arise when you're faced with a long, comfortable journey, and nothing better to do than to chat to the person sitting a few seats away.

For more tips how to get down to the 4 ton annual CO2 limit that Shrink That Footprint recommends, check out their website.  

* The actual CO2 released is less than that but, "When aviation fuel is burned at high altitude make emissions from aeroplanes nearly four times as damaging as those at ground level."  Guardian Environmental Editor, John Vidal

*Based on Berlin.de's figure of 21 million tons of CO2 for the entire city per year


  1. Great article. In addition to reflecting on personal choices by the EasyJet set, consider getting involved with a bunch of people working collectively to address this issue! flyingless.org

  2. Thanks! Flyingless.org is definitely going into my bookmarks.

    It would be great to create a general petition like the one you've made for the academic world @ https://goo.gl/XlFWDD

    In the meantime, feel free to send anything similar my way!


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