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Birmingham to Edinburgh: why would you fly?

Easyjet has announced that from March 2020 it will be flying twice a day from Birmingham to Edinburgh. Is there a place for short domestic routes in our transport infrastructure?

FlightFree UK
26 Sep 2 min read

Easyjet’s new route from Birmingham to Edinburgh will be its shortest route in the UK, a mere 250 miles. Of course there are shorter routes in the UK. The shortest scheduled route in the world is between Westray and Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands, which is 1.7 miles, about the same length as the runway at Edinburgh Airport. In fact the flights between the Orkney Islands are so short, they could be the first passenger routes to be served by an electric plane.

Easyjet’s service hasn’t started yet, but if you search for flights from Birmingham to Edinburgh this autumn, you will find they take around 1 hour 15 minutes and cost £128 return. Supposing you want to travel from city centre to city centre, and arrive at the airport an hour or more before departure, the total journey will be at least three to four hours.

On the other hand, you can travel by train from Birmingham to Edinburgh, city centre to city centre, by Virgin Trains in just over four hours. It can also be substantially cheaper to go by train, especially taking the cost of transfers into account, but that depends on whether you can be flexible and book in advance. At the time of writing there are rail tickets available to travel up to Edinburgh for a long weekend at half term for just over £100 return. If you go, do try to travel in daylight. The stretch near Penrith and on through the Scottish Borders is beautiful!

Some people say that growth in demand for flying is unstoppable. But demand is a function of price and convenience. It is hard to imagine that people are clamouring for more flights from Birmingham to Edinburgh, or Edinburgh to Birmingham, when there is a direct, convenient and inexpensive rail connection between the two cities. It is, however, all too understandable that, if Easyjet starts offering cheap flights on the route, and vigorously promotes them, many more people will consider flying for a meeting or for an enjoyable city break, where they would have been happy to take the train or choose a different destination before.

The UK Committee on Climate Change wrote to the Government this month proposing various measures to curb growth in demand for flying. Options include a frequent flyer levy, taxes on airlines, or restricting growth in airport capacity. If the Government’s aim is to reduce emissions without reducing our freedom to travel, it could start by grounding planes on routes where there is already a rail alternative.

The same day Easyjet starts its shortest UK route, KLM will begin replacing one flight a day between Amsterdam and Brussels with a high speed train. This route is even shorter, and the rail service even faster. It’s a smart solution that reduces emissions while working with limits on airport capacity. Is this a glimpse of the future?

Graphic designed by the University of Edinburgh's Dept for Social Responsibility and Sustainability: edin.ac/business-travel

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