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Flight Free UK response to the Coronavirus

Flight Free UK comments on what the current Coronavirus outbreak means for our campaign and for aviation in general

FlightFree UK
13 Mar 2020 3 min read

Picture shows the inside of an airplane. It is empty apart from one person wearing a full hazmat suit and mask.

Since we launched in February 2019 we have run a positive campaign with two pillars: to inform people of the climate impact of aviation and inspire them to travel by other means.

The Coronavirus outbreak has caused worldwide disruption, not least to air traffic. While we welcome the resulting reduction in emissions, our messaging remains consistent: we want people to choose to reduce the amount they fly because of the climate crisis, rather than be forced to cancel flights because of a global pandemic.

"We want people to choose to reduce their flights because of the climate crisis, rather than be forced to cancel flights due to the pandemic."

Global crises that result in enforced behaviour change are unlikely to inspire long-term change. Once this crisis is over, many people will return to the skies, and there is likely to be a spike in bookings as people seek to make up for lost time.

There are, however, a number of things that the Coronavirus epidemic has highlighted:

  • The practice of ‘ghost flights’, or flying empty planes to preserve lucrative landing slots. While this has been common for over a decade, it has become more obvious as a result of a sudden and substantial drop in customer demand. We urge the government to ensure that structures are put in place so that this wasteful practice no longer continues.
  • The collapse of struggling airline Flybe. It is likely that other airlines might soon follow. While we are always sympathetic with the individuals involved and never celebrate the job losses and hardship that would bring, we hope that this incentivises the creation of new businesses that are compatible with the climate emergency.

The challenges currently being faced by businesses and individuals as a result of the Coronavirus epidemic could lead to criticisms of our campaign: how can we push for a reduction in demand on a scale similar to what is currently being seen, when it leads to such problems? The difference is that changes led by consumers rather than dramatic, global events are gradual and allow industry to keep up. We have already seen this in Europe as a steady shift away from air travel has led to the introduction of new rail routes. Where consumers lead, industry responds, when change occurs at an organic pace.

"Changes led by consumers rather than dramatic, global events are gradual and allow industry to keep up."

Fundamentally, we are a behaviour change campaign, and we will continue to campaign for a shift away from air travel. We will strongly promote our message that a reduction in air traffic is necessary for the good of the climate, and continue to inspire travel by other means. Of course, overland travel is also being curtailed at this time, and we would urge people to follow official guidelines about travelling during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Ultimately, the climate crisis is not going away, so now and in the future we will keep promoting our vital message to the best of our ability.

Flight Free UK, 13th March 2020

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