However, some experts caution that while banning select short-haul flights can provide some immediacy to carbon-cutting efforts, those measures alone will not resolve the aviation industry’s much bigger carbon emissions problem. According to European air traffic management organization Eurocontrol, flights shorter than 311 miles made up 31 percent of European flights in 2020 yet contributed just over four percent of the EU’s total aviation emissions. In contrast, long-haul EU flights over 2,485 miles, for which alternative train travel is less feasible, made up six percent of all flights, but produced 52 percent of emissions.
“France’s ban on domestic short-haul flights can only be seen as a very hesitant step in the right direction,” says Herwig Schuster, a Greenpeace EU transport expert. The French ban will translate to less than a one-percent reduction in carbon emissions for the country’s air transport sector, according to a Greenpeace report.
Broader flight bans appear to have public support, though: A 2020 survey from the European Investment Bank found that 62 percent of Europeans support an EU-wide ban on short-haul flights, while 49 percent of Americans support similar measures in the US
To supplement these new policies, the EU, is aiming to double high-speed rail traffic by 2030, while even sleeker high-speed trains are due out in France in time for the Paris 2024 Olympics. And, in the meantime, travelers who do seek out domestic rail connections in the country aren’t likely to be disappointed.
French train travel is “not just a mode of transportation, but an experience in itself,” says Mark Smith, founder of train travel website The Man in Seat 61, who says France’s high-speed trains offer conveniences that planes don’t, like city center-to-city center transport, free Wi-Fi, no advance boarding requirements, and great scenery. “Through the large picture windows you see far more of France than from a plane,” he says.
Serious talks about similar bans on short-haul flights have yet to materialize in the US, where train infrastructure is significantly less developed. Even in the absence of such legislation, travelers should consider choosing trains over planes when feasible, experts like sustainable travel consultant Rose O’Connor say. Such sustainable options are a “value-add, rather than a sacrifice,” she says. Not only is cutting emissions a necessity of the times, O’Connor explains, but “train travel offers a sort of romance and history that plane travel simply does not.”