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Results from the Flight Free 2020 survey

Flight Free UK explores the findings from the 2020 survey to see what inspired people to take the flight free pledge.

FlightFree UK
09 Jun 2021 6 min read

Image shows a pair of hands holding up a sign that says, Flight Free 2020 survey results

This survey was conducted between November 2020 and January 2021. We asked various questions to determine people’s reasons for signing the pledge and their flying habits before and after taking part.

Questions included people's age, location, and how long since their last flight. It asked how frequently people flew in a typical year (coronavirus notwithstanding). There were also questions about motivations for signing the pledge, how people heard about the campaign, and if they would take the pledge again.

Overview

Of the 6,856 people who took the pledge, 558 (8%) responded to the survey.

Generally, people in the older age bracket completed the survey, with two-thirds of respondents aged 50+. The majority of respondents (nearly two-thirds) had taken a flight within the last five years, and over half said they would usually take between one and three return flights in a typical year.

The majority of respondents heard about the pledge through social media. A large majority cited environmental concerns as their reason for taking the pledge, and the overwhelming majority said they would take the pledge again.

Detailed findings

  • The largest age group for people taking the survey was 60-69, making up 32% of respondents. The next largest group was 50-59 (22%), then 40-49 (16%). The youngest age group, 18-29 years old, made up the smallest percentage of respondents (6%).
  • The majority of respondents (63%) said they had flown recently, i.e. within the last five years, with 33% saying they had flown within the last two years. A substantial number (22%) had not flown at all in the past decade, and only a very small number (2%) said they had never flown.

Bar graph showing the time since the respondents last flight was taken.
The majority of respondents said they had flown within the last five years

  • Over half of respondents (57%) said they would usually take between one and three return flights in a typical year. A large number (39%) said they generally don’t take any flights in a typical year. A small percentage (4%) said they take 4+ flights per year, with five people saying they would typically take more than 10 flights a year.

    It is difficult to put a number on how many respondents are ‘frequent flyers’, given that the definition of the term ‘frequent flyer’ is taking three or more return flights per year. Our categories counted those who took two flights and three flights together, so our best estimate is to halve the number of respondents who selected ‘2-3 flights per year’ and add it to the total who took 4+ flights per year. We can therefore estimate that 15% of respondents are frequent flyers.

  • The majority of respondents (55%) heard about Flight Free UK through social media. The next most common was word of mouth, with 15%. Others heard about the campaign through other news media, e.g. magazine or newspaper articles (11%), a newsletter from their local environmental group (6%), by hearing us speak at a public event (2%), through TV or radio (4.5%), or through an internet search (3%).

Graph showing the different reasons of what inspired them to take the pledge.
The overwhelming reason given for signing the pledge was climate change concerns

  • The overwhelming reason given for signing the pledge was climate change concerns or a desire to reduce carbon footprint. This was given as an answer 373 times. The next most common answer was to inspire social change, which was given 86 times. It is difficult to use percentages here, as many people cited multiple reasons for signing, so for this response we are using absolute numbers.

    Other reasons given were making a political protest against airport expansion and the aviation industry (18), dislike or fear of flying (20) and those who didn’t fly anyway so were making their decision ‘official’ (23). Some people pledged in order to support the campaign (31) and some took the pledge so they would be accountable to someone if they felt the need to fly (6). Preference for alternative travel was also given as a reason (17), as was taking personal action (13), and social justice (4).

  • The vast majority of respondents (95%) said that they would take the flight free pledge again.

Pie chart showing the likelihood of respondents taking the pledge again
The majority of repondents would take the pledge again

Motivations for signing the pledge

“I'm a keen birdwatcher, so I use my ears as much as my eyes. Aircraft noise bothers me: even though I live 45 miles from Heathrow and 23 miles from Luton, there are many days (and nights) when the booming in the clouds never stops. As a birder, I meet many people who take 3-4 long-haul flights per year, and assert the benefits of ‘wildlife tourism’.”

“I had just got back from a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Tonga to swim with humpback whales, but I felt really bad that I had to take eight flights to get there and back. I felt bad thinking of all the emissions I was causing just for something that was frivolous (albeit my lifelong dream). I was thinking of not flying for at least a couple of years after that to compensate, so it was perfect timing when I heard about the pledge.”

“The vast majority of the world's population never fly but suffer the effects of the increased CO2 emissions by those who do. I believe in fairness.”

“I think the pledge is useful as a symbolic campaigning tool – less about the marginal difference of one person not flying, and more about sending a message to media and policymakers to reduce support for air travel/airport expansion and encourage investment in alternatives.”

“I have spent my whole working life in the aviation sector but realised that it was impossible for the industry to be sustainable. Hearing about Flight Free UK coincided with a change of job to work in the conservation sector. A midlife crisis? I prefer to think of it as a change of purpose and direction to something that better fitted the values I now hold as important.”

“My daily life was harmed by increased flights from London City Airport. I also disagreed with airport expansion. I couldn't be a hypocrite and fly.”

Impact of the pledge on people’s lives

“I really enjoyed travelling by train from London to the Czech Republic and then from Prague in the Czech Republic to High Tatras in Slovakia and back from there by train to the Czech Republic and then by coach to London. It is fun to explore different ways of travelling apart from flying.”

“This campaign has definitely given a sense of solidarity that I am not the only person who thinks it is a good idea to give up flying. I think it has helped me justify it to other people who are less convinced that it is a necessary/ impactful choice to be making.”

“I've rediscovered the joy of vacationing in the beautiful UK. There is no need to go abroad for holidays.”

“I've actually been focusing on language learning and have signed up to a language exchange app – I feel like I've had more cultural experiences through that than I would have from just going on holiday to somewhere far-flung.”

“Overall I have enjoyed not having to fly places and reducing my environmental impact on the planet!”

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