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On Airlines and Eco Travel

emirates and qantas

Last month, Australian airline Qantas announced a new partnership with Dubai-based Emirates. A collaboration that means Qantas is moving many of its connections from Singapore to Dubai, which will change the stop-off point for many people going to Europe to the Middle East.

It’s an exciting time for the quintessentially Aussie carrier, and those who use the airline on a regular basis; they’re going to have a whole new region to explore on layovers.

To celebrate this new business deal both airlines are holding a Gala Dinner, which I was invited to. Excitement!

BUT, I can’t go. I’d love to, but it’s in Sydney, I’m in Melbourne.

The usual questions popped into my head:

  • Can I really go celebrate the joining forces of two airlines? It’s not particularly in keeping with the concept of eco travel.
  • Would it be wrong to feature a story on the new partnership on an eco travel blog?
  • Would it be right if I accepted the invitation?
  • Would I be selling out for a sumptuous dinner?

At the Australian Festival of Travel Writing recently, there was a debate on the ethics of travelling today. A panel of seasoned travel writers were asked by a member of the audience whether they thought it was right to travel by plane, and if they did anything environmentally-wise to compensate for their flights.

I wish I had written down the exact question, but it was their answers that were more illuminating, and my own reaction.

All of the travel writers had no qualms about travelling by plane. After all, they write about their travel experiences for a living so travelling by plane is part of their job.

And for the first time, because I now live in Australia, I realise I have absolutely no guilt about travelling by plane. I used to, but not now.

I’m originally from Europe and still have family and friends there, so of course I’m going to fly. I need to. And until I trust carbon offsetting schemes – which I don’t – I will do my bit for the environment as I always do, in ways that I know will matter… every single day. Not just for one flight.

When you live in Europe or in America, it’s possible to drive or take public transport to many destinations. If you live in Australia, it can take days or weeks to get to from one city to the next by car. You’re stuffed without air travel.

In the north of the country, where they get flash flooding during the wet season, the only way in and out of certain areas is by plane or helicopter as the roads are either impassable, or non-existent having been washed away with the rains.

Until you see Australia from above, it’s impossible to fathom the size. On a flight from Melbourne to Malaysia, it takes six hours to fly across the country. In that time you won’t see a single city. You may catch a glimpse of Alice Springs town in the centre of Australia, but other than that there is nothing but red earth stretching for hundreds of miles below. For six hours.

We need airlines to get us in and out of the country. Of course, we could all go back to grand sailing ships, but the way the cruise industry has gone, is that really a better solution?

And so, sure, I would love to celebrate with Qantas and Emirates in their new beginnings. However, I’ve had to turn down the invite. Why? Air travel between cities is so bloomin’ expensive!

But then, that’s a whole other story.

What’s Your Opinion?

I always put a footer at the end of posts, but this time I would really, really love to hear what you think on this issue. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

Image: via Gulf Business


    • Hi there, thanks for commenting and adding your link – always like to point readers to other helpful articles. Cheers!

  1. Hi Linda – great post, and thought-provoking. As a nature-loving travel writer, I wrestle with this issue a bit and have been flying less because of my increasing concern about the state of the planet. Sure, air travel apparently accounts for only 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions which doesn’t sound like much, but when it comes to your individual carbon footprint, flights are big: a flight from Australia to Europe, say, can generate 8 TONNES of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Climate Friendly (I offset all my flights with them, which means investing in renewable energy). I don’t have the answer – offsetting can only do so much and as you say, we need to fly for our work. And I love flying! The bottom line I guess is that it’s impossible to live with “no impact” (despite the title of my blog!) so we each have to decide which impacts we’re ok with, and which we’re not. Like I said, thought-provoking!

    • Hey Louise… Wow, it’s like having royalty comment ;-).
      You are so right, it’s almost impossible to live with ‘no impact’, but at least we’re trying!
      I have bought a percentage of the Amazonian rainforest in the past – so it can’t be chopped down… although, Lord knows if it’s a scam. And, I always make sure I sign up to utility from companies that use renewable energy, compost leftovers etc, in addition to doing as much as I can in little ways to lessen my environmental impact. Still, I must admit I have a slight sweat at the thought of my impact after having two children go through disposable nappies (even though they were as green as I could get) – when I think of where they go (and everyone else’s) and what effect it must be having in some corner of the world I get the guilts big time!

  2. As fellow eco-travelers, we’ve been asked the “to fly or not to fly” question many times. But, if you believe in ecotourism as a means of helping indigenous cultures to survive/thrive and preserve the ecosystems they inhabit, flying is a necessary evil (much like driving). We’re hoping that the airlines will eventually develop more eco-friendly hybrid planes in the future, taking advantage of alternative energy forms to reduce their carbon footprint. Because telling people NOT to fly is basically like telling them not to travel. Nobody wants that!

    • So true, Bret! I don’t think it’s right for travel writers to ever tell other people it’s not right to fly, unless they never fly themselves. And there are quite a few schemes on the go right now with biofuels and hybrids, but I think they’re still a long way off from becoming mainstream. It’s still exciting, though.

  3. Hi Linda, A good subject for us eco-minded travellers to grapple with. I’m no angel when it comes to flying and wrestle with the issue regularly but know my climate conscience is clearest when I’m travelling on my bike!

    There is no escaping the current scientific consensus that flying contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. As individuals aware of those facts we must follow our own conscience as regards whether we fly or not, the extent to which we do and the consequences for our personal ecological footprint. Beyond the personal it’s a matter of personal politics whether you think others should or not fly, and whether you support, tolerate or campaign against individuals or companies who fly or who profit from doing so.

    From a purely climate change point of view, I find it hard to understand the notion of “ecotourism” where long haul flying is involved. And while I know the term is used in a wider sense to refer to other ecological or cultural impacts, in radical moments long haul ‘ecotourism’ strikes me as irresponsible tourism no matter what benefits there are in terms of local economics, wildlife conservation, learning, or cultural preservation.

    For most of us flying is not a necessary evil. We don’t have to travel. We choose to. And we choose how to. And we choose whether or how we justify that to ourselves and others. And sometimes we do things that just plain contradict everything we say and think we believe.

    And as if to prove my contradictory position on this, your comment luv will probably throw up my most recent post as being one that promotes a scheme involving AirMiles. We’ve a long way to go but at least you raising questions helps keeps us mindful of our contradictions.

    • Ha ha, yep, there it is 🙂 I take my hat off to you for cycling with three kids in tow. That would take some serious planning – and leg work, quite literally! I’m itching to get cycling with our girls, just need to get bikes!

      Ecotourism and long-haul flying is exactly my dilemma, or any tourism for that matter. Really, unless you stay within Australia – which is impossible for me – most flights are long-haul. So it’s about finding the balance.

      It’s also why I report and write a lot about places in and around Melbourne. I don’t think travel writers always have to write about far flung places, after all, Melbourne is as far flung as you can get for someone from the other side of the world, so it’s always useful… I hope.

  4. Hi Linda, This was my final thought when I stepped off the plane after a 15 month round-the-word trip. “How friggin big is my carbon footprint and how do I offset it?” So i did some research and found out that the expelled methane from cattle is far more damaging. In fact, a grazing dairy cow can burp up to 600 grams of methane per day. As a greenhouse gas, methane is about 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. So I gave up burgers.

    • That’s not a bad idea, Tracey, but I know I could never give up meat. I do, however, only buy organic and try to offset how I live in other ways.

  5. I’d respectfully suggest that, without long-haul flying, the central tenet of “ecotourism”– conserving natural ecosystems via responsible, sustainable travel– will not work.

    Fact: Most of the world’s remaining pristine ecosystems are in developing nations.

    Fact: Ecotourism relies on revenue from tourism to fund conservation efforts.

    Fact: The vast majority of people in developing nations do not have the $$$ to fund conservation efforts.

    Fact: Without long-haul flying, most eco-minded tourists cannot get to these destinations.

    Fact: Without responsible ecotourism investments, most pristine ecosystems wind up being exploited for profit.

    I, as much as anyone, appreciate the idea that people need to travel as “Green” as possible. There are simple choices we can all make, both at home and when we travel, to help lessen our carbon footprint and make a positive impact on the planet.

    But if we all stop taking long-haul flights to remote destinations that rely nearly 100% on ecotourism to fund conservation efforts, those conservation efforts will fail.

    The real dialogue we should be having is about applying increased pressure to the auto and airline industries to make the transition way from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable energy sources.

    • Hey Bret, I just came back to this post to answer a discussion on the EATWA group and saw your reply. Sorry I missed it when it first went up. Great comment, and yes, totally agree… if we didn’t fly to some destinations conservation efforts – which are mostly funded and led by outsiders to the situation – would fail miserably.

  6. When traveling is the part of the life you choose, try to minimized is foot print is something we should all thing about thanks for sharing 🙂

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