Alternatives to Air Travel

This page outlines the way rail and video-conferencing can be alternatives to some air trips.  We start with video-conferencing.


Travelling Light 2008

This is report into the potential of video-conferencing as an alternative for many air journeys: Travelling Light .  The report looks at into the way British businesses are starting to use video-conferencing instead of flying.

Key findings

  • 62% of companies surveyed are already reducing how much they fly.
  • A further 24% of companies are currently developing plans to do so.
  • 89% of companies expect they will want to fly less over the next 10 years.
  • 85% of companies say that videoconferencing can help them reduce their flying.
  • 89% of companies believe that videoconferencing can improve their productivity.

Link:   Travelling Light    pdf  


High-speed rail is not without its environmental problems.  It produces more CO2 emissions and more noise than ordinary trains.  And in some European countries such as France the Government has invested  in high-speed rail at the expense of their local rail services.  We believe this should not happen as local rail is very important.

And here is a link to a good article which shows how an obsession amongst some decision-makers  with high-speed rail (as well as tax-breaks to aviation) is killing many night flight sleeper services across Europe:

However, we do believe that fast, affordable trains have an important role to play as an alternative to short-distance flights.

European flights diagramClick diagram to enlarge

A big majority of flights leaving airports in Europe go to other European destinations.  The chart above shows some of the key places in Europe.   According to EuroControl, 45% of air trips within Europe are 500 kilometres or less in length.  There is a lot of scope for people to switch to Europe’s high-speed rail network.

Distance, time and cost are key factors which influence the mode of travel a person chooses to make the journey.


under 150km – car or traditional rail are preferred;

150 – 400km – high speed rail wins out over air, but car still has around 70% of the market;

400 – 1200km – there is competition between high speed rail and air, with the fiercest competition at distances of between 400 and 800km;

over 1200km – general preference for air (All these figures from Milan Janic in Towards Sustainable Aviation, published by Earthscan 2003)


A lot of people will switch to rail if the train lasts no more than three hours, but some people will use the train for journeys of four-and-a-half hours.  The French railway, SNCF, has found that on journeys of less than four-and-a-half hours, where their trains compete with airlines, their share of the market is over 50%. This is backed up by other European rail companies, which are capturing more than 60% of the business market from airlines on four hour journeys.  Part of the reason for this is the reduced check-in times for train travel and the fact that it is much easier to work on the train.


 The price of a journey is more important for leisure travellers than for business people.  In some countries train travel is not expensive.  And sometimes it can be cheaper to take the train.  But, for many journeys, the train is more expensive than the budget flights.  These flights are cheap because there is no tax on aviation fuel and there is no VAT charged on tickets.  Higher air fares would encourage many more people to use the train.

Of course, high-speed rail is not problem-free.  It is very expensive to build.  There is the danger than governments will spend less on their local rail services in order to pay for high-speed rail.  A high-speed train is also noisy.  If a train came every few minutes it would begin to cause the same noise problems as aircraft.  And high-speed rail produces more climate change emissions than slower rail services.  But there is no doubt that high-speed rail can provide an alternative to many air journeys.

European rail(1)

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