The right to fly?!

In 1957 the Dutch Airline KLM advertised with the slogan ‘Flying is cheaper than you think’. During that time a retour Istanbul cost 1037 guilder which is about  3,300 euro. Today a flight to Istanbul is only 150 euro. Flights did become extremely cheap and exploring the planet became affordable for most of us. It  makes the entire planet reachable and we are taking the plane more and more often. However, all our flights are very harmful for the environment. Despite the fact that we are aware of the fact that flying is the most destructive form of travel, we do not stop flying. But if we have a look at the environmental impacts, should we even be allowed to take the plane? Is there any way to fly sustainable? 


Today most solutions to improve the sustainability of the aviation sector focus on improving techniques and investments in controversial compensation projects. There are ambitious plans in which aviation sector together with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) tries to reduce their emissions.It is very unlikely that these innovations could keep up with the increasing  emissions due to the growth of the aviation sector. The sale of airplane tickets rises with about 25% a year and at the same time we have the intention to reduces our greenhouse gas emissions. In 2050 the emissions should be reduced by 50% while current growth numbers will sevenfold current emissions.1 Airplanes could become more sustainable but the possibilities for this are limited. In the past decades jet engines have improved and airplanes did become more aerodynamic but an increase in efficiency of a few percent per year is impossible. Concerning current growth numbers these technological improvements are not enough to reduce the emissions by 50% in 20501. Technology is not going to solve the problem and therefore we, the consumers themselves, have to take action. The only way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to fly less.


Stop flying will have a big impact on the sustainability of tourism since at least 50% of the total environmental impact of tourism is caused by transportation. Besides that, this solution will be best for the environment, and additionally it could turn crowded places like Venice, Amsterdam and Barcelona to livable places again. The quality of life for people living around airports will improve since the noisy noise that airplanes produce during take-off and landing and the air pollution through plane emissions will reduce.


Tourism can only achieve its emission reduction targets if it becomes less dependent on air travel. This does not mean that we have to stop traveling, but it is about a shift away from air transport towards car and even more sustainable rail and coach traveling. This also implies a shift from very far destinations to short and medium distance. Most tourist do seek a specific holiday experience and not a specific destination and  people can have these experiences at several destinations not that far away. When we travel, we are not focused on sustainability, we want satisfaction of our desire to escape and seek authentic experiences.


Most people are aware of the destructive effect of air transport on the environment and yet we still plan to  travel to far destinations. We use biological degradable bamboo coffee cups but we still fly to Ecuador for a vacation. The chance that tourists will voluntarily change their travel behavior and reduce their travel related emissions significantly is very small. Tourist choice of travel depends on flexibility, comfort, convenience, relaxation and the availability of time to travel. More sustainable transportation options such as the train are often more complex. They will only use sustainable modes of transport if the proposed alternatives are convenient and tourists are well informed about what, why and how they can make a difference. Tourist behavior will only change if stronger  regulatory mechanism and incentives are used such as taxes. These taxes will include the environmental damage in the ticket price. Tourists then have to pay the true price for a ticket. If these tickets become more expensive, travel just for fun or the experience will not be available for most of us. To reduce the environmental impact of air transport we should make flying exclusive again.


However, it is not likely that this will happen soon. Tourist have to take their own responsibility to reduce their emissions. If we are going to fly, our reason to take the plane should be extraordinary and important. If our reasons are not important enough to justify the emissions, we should not go or take another form of travel. When you are planning your next trip, consider if taking the plane can be justified and if you indeed should have the right to fly. If not think about other options for transport or another destination less far away. In other articles in this magazine you can find information about other modes of transport.




1.Oosterbaan, W. (4-01-2019) Elektrisch vliegen, in je dromen. Retrieved from:

2.Vidal, J. (26-01-2019) Why I only take one holiday flight a year. Retrieved from:

3. (25-12-2018) Dit zijn de vijf knelpunten rond de uitbreiding van Schiphol. Retrieved from:

4..Scott, D., Peeters, P., & Gössling, S. (2010). Can tourism deliver its “aspirational” greenhouse gas emission reduction targets?. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 18(3), 393-408.

5..Budeanu, A. (2007). Sustainable tourist behaviour–a discussion of opportunities for change. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 31(5), 499-508.


 by Mariëlle