I’m not a raging sadist, and so I didn’t feel the thrill of seeing queues of weary vacationers coming out of airport lounges in the UK this week, desperately trying to embark on the long-awaited Easter break.
Nor did I take comfort in schadenfreude that the UK’s largest airlines, EasyJet and British Airways, had proactively canceled many services in response to staff sickness and increased passenger demand.
However, you may have noticed a whisper of relief when I saw a recruitment expert warning that these chaotic scenes in Britain’s aviation hubs may not subside for an entire year. That’s how long it can take to address the chronic staff shortages at airports in the wake of the pandemic.
You might ask why should I feel anything at all? Well, in short, because I won’t be getting on the plane myself this summer – nor for the rest of the year.
I will very likely be the only travel editor in the country who has pledged not to travel since 2020.
My reasons for staying on Earth are heavily environmental – having spoken to countless climate scientists, experts, and activists for my upcoming book on the topic, zero height (On May 26th), I am convinced that we need to reevaluate our toxic relationship with aviation and learn to travel in greener ways wherever possible. It doesn’t have to be environmentally heavy, but the irreplaceable fact is that the aviation industry is responsible for 860 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually; There’s a reason scientists say the fastest way to dramatically reduce your carbon footprint is to fly less.
But even before the recent unrest (pun intended) at airports across the land, which even saw unlucky passengers miss flights because they were stuck in security queues for hours on end, I couldn’t help but feel conceited about my choice every time a friend told me of a catastrophic delay in The trip or a nightmare case of lost baggage (OK, okay, maybe I’m a raging sadist).
Let’s face it: Even when things go smoothly – an event that seems increasingly rare – often the airport experience has more in common with the undiscovered circle of hell than Heathrow’s ambitious and fascinating marketing material.
Sure, it’s a quick way (usually cheap) to get to somewhere. But only in terms of actual flight time. Factor in the access to the airport (depending on where you live, usually an hour or more); Queue to check your bag; Security waiting (along with an insult to take off your shoes and your belt and your jewelry and pay the cleaning tools mundane in transparent plastic bag for all to see); More than two-hour or so that Tqzianha waiting on the runway in what amounts to a giant shopping center and colorless magic along with thousands of your fellow travelers are increasingly angry … do not feel the same speed after all. And without waiting for the endless baggage at the other end, in addition to the trip onwards – often add another hour to the side of it.
The more time I go without flying, in fact, the more I wonder how I put up with it in the first place. Like an old old woman, I sneer from afar, grumbling with my breath about how unlikely I am to find Stansted and that it is “inexplicable” that Luton Parkway Airport train station is not actually at the airport (and requires a separate bus transfer. Why? Why???) .
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By comparison, my train and ferry travels in the past three years have essentially filled me with unbridled joy. Hop on a sleeper train, say, to Scotland or Cornwall, and you’ll have your flight hidden in a tiny, mobile hotel room and wake up in a new place, all without the hassle of passport control.
Hop aboard the Eurostar, you can take as many liquids as you want, the plastic bag will be damned. Take a ferry bound for northern Spain, and the journey can be long – but there are restaurants serving three-course meals, sumptuous lounges with a separate bar, and the grandeur of the sea enticing at every turn. I may have started pledging to stay away from flights in response to the climate crisis; I think I will continue to do so thanks to the sheer joy that slow travel brings.
So, if you’re worried about getting caught up in more travel chaos in UK airports this summer, my expert “hack” is simple but effective: Ditch flights altogether, and embrace a different pace of travel.
Helen Covey is travel editor at The Independent and author of Zero Altitude: How I Learn to Fly Less and Travel More (Flint, £16.99), Available for Pre-Order Now.