"Generation easyjet“ vs. "Generation Greta“

Fly less - travel better?

Antje Monshausen
Schild der Protestierenden mit der Aufschrift: billiges Fliegen kommt uns teuer zu stehen
© Fridays for Future Düsseldorf

Almost three quarters of Germans would be prepared to pay more for flying and are in favour of increasing the price of flights, according to a representative survey conducted in the summer of 2019. And in a debate among young people on the subject of responsible travel in mid August in Berlin, when asked to vote on the proposal to ban flights within Europe altogether, 10 out of 15 people raised their hands to vote in favour. Not surprisingly that Fridays for Future groups decided to move their protests from city centres to airports, as the protests in Stuttgart and Düsseldorf during the summer holidays have shown.  However, in reality, the situation is different. The German aviation industry is proclaiming record figures for 2019. Air travel industry representatives tell the media half relieved, half defiantly, that there is no "Greta effect" and that the global climate protests have had no evident impact. Nevertheless, at industry meetings, there is noticeable tension in the aviation and travel sector.

And with good reason. After all, what climate sceptics and frequent flyers sometimes exploit as double standards, namely that young people who protest on Fridays for climate protection nevertheless sometimes fly, could become a sign for an urgently needed turnaround. More and more young people are breaking with the routine – that has become so convenient – of thoughtlessly just flying away for a quick trip. They are becoming rationally decisive and variably mobile when it comes to travel and, for the sake of the climate, travel less often by plane, opting instead to travel more often by train, bus or to carpool. They don’t see doing without flights wherever possible as a sacrifice of comfort rather a gain in credibility and travel quality. Will this make flying less and travelling better a possibility?  

We asked some adolescents and young adults whether and how air travel is discussed in their generation:

Helen, high school graduate, 17 years old from Berlin – The pride of fighting climate change beats the disgrace of flying

"When it came to our end of year trip to celebrate finishing high school we discussed where we should go. The most important thing was a reasonable price, but the matter of how to get there was also discussed. In the end, some of us took the train to Denmark. In our circle of friends, and at parties, the mood is quite divided. For some it is important to avoid flights, others don't care. Unfortunately, the power of images favours the airplane over long-distance buses for example – let’s face it, you rarely get to see an impressive sunrise from above and instead are left with the view of the sweaty back of the person in front of you. It’s therefore better not to post the picture from the bus. But when you get to tell people how far you’ve made it in a comparatively more climate-friendly way, you can feel proud. This also motivates others to try it for themselves. It's important to me not to fly within Europe. To make this possible for everyone, flying should become more expensive, and rail travel cheaper."

Meret, 10 year-old pupil from Berlin – I don't care that it can be more exhausting sometimes

"I think flying is stupid. I mean not flying itself, I actually like that. I have flown once before. But I don't like the fact that it's so bad for the environment. I don’t mind if the journey to our holidays is a little more strenuous and you have to spend a few days travelling until you get there. But I have a friend who lives in Costa Rica. I want to visit her someday and then I’ll have to fly."

Marc, 23 year-old student from Heidelberg – Travelling means being on the road from A to Z, not flying from A to B

"I'm starting a year abroad studying in Japan in October. I thought long and hard about whether I could keep this in line with my own claim to fly as little as possible. But travelling by train and ship is simply too expensive. I’ve already offset my flight. My parents wanted to give me a return flight for Christmas so that we could celebrate together. I refused, and I don't want friends to visit me for a short time either. I’ve not been flying within Europe for years because I know how many alternatives there are. On a 25-hour train ride this year to Oslo I met people from Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Norway; I would never have met them otherwise. If you just fly from A to B, you miss out on so much. After all, travelling is an experience from A to Z. I have my doubts that there will be climate-friendly flights in the next 30 years and, even then, I think you will still miss out on a lot if you just skip the journey. I am not against flying per se, but it should be a rare exception."  

Alaya, 13 year-old pupil from Berlin – Our parents are worried, we’re not

"I went on holiday by plane with my family this year but we all had a guilty conscience and afterwards decided to fly less. Because I flew a lot as a child, I want to live more frugally now. My class wants to travel to Romania by train. Some parents are worried that it will take too long, but we want to do it anyway because flying is out of the question for us."

Ella, 9 year-old pupil from Berlin – It's easier for us

"I love to ride trains. It's not so hard for us children to do without flights – we are familiar with traveling by train and like it. But, for the older generation, it’s a big change. They find it harder because flying is normal for them." 

Jonas, 22 year-old student from Hannover – Not flying is cooler than frequent flying

"I've only flown twice in my life. It used to be seen as a bit of a shortcoming because frequent flying was cooler and I was thought of as a freak for not flying. By now I could have had so many chances to fly, but I can’t do it with a clear conscience anymore. I refused the invitation from friends to fly to warmer climes over New Year's Eve. A friend even called off a long-haul trip. I can identify with the feeling of being ashamed for flying, and I am optimistic that my generation will fly less in the future than before."

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