What if any flight which could’ve realistically been an easy rail or car journey was no longer allowed to fly? In France, that’s soon to be a policy, not a proposition. The country, as part of sweeping bailout support for the aviation sector, is putting new rules in place which limits where and who airlines can fly. Will it catch on elsewhere?

It’s all based on access to alternative means of mass transit, and distance, and it could pave the way for a revolution in travel. Short haul air travel may disappear in a post health, climate focused world.

The Revolution Begins In France

France is bailing out Air France, with more than 7.5 billion Euros in support of the airline. Naturally, that sort of cash comes with stipulations, but unlike rules about being nice to passengers, new laws will fundamentally change how the French public travels entirely.

For starters, the airline is not allowed to sell domestic between Paris and any destination which could be reached with a rail journey of 2.5 hours, or less. That’s correct, a Parisien, or anyone in Paris, or places like Bordeaux will no longer be allowed to purchase a domestic flight between Paris and a variety of provincial cities.

The airline will be allowed to operate flights between Paris and these domestic destinations, but only for passengers connecting from outside of the country, meaning from Europe or further abroad. This would naturally lead to fewer passengers on each flight, which increases emissions per flight, based on fewer passengers on each plane, while also making some routes non viable for the airline.

It means more rail, more mass transit and for some… longer journeys. French TGV is generally regarded as excellent, so if there was a country ready to go in this direction, it probably was France all along. It’s not all bad, it’s just new and could become a model for other countries. But, should it?

Will Environmental Concerns Broaden Short Haul Restrictions?

France is one thing, but what if other countries begin limiting rights to short haul flying routes, to push for lower emissions and advocate for mass transit?

Correctly, businesses around the world, particularly in travel, are looking at their impact on the environment and making changes to reduce it. If one country is going to tie one hand behind its national airline’s back, in hopes of creating more sustainable travel, the EU may indeed push for wider, equal measures across all Schengen borders.

Why stop there?

The East Coast of the United States is a corridor ripe with hourly flights between cities such as Boston and New York, or New York and Washington DC, but also offers improving rail service. The same could be said for the United Kingdom, with an already robust domestic rail network, featuring competing operators.

It’d be hard to imagine such an overreaching policy finding its way into the US Government at the moment, but as climate talks reenter the news with the stabilization of health concerns, these are just the kind of place discussions could take foot.

For every action, there’s a reaction, and many countries would struggle to meet the challenges and demands of such heavy additional passenger traffic on railways today. If infrastructure investments begin to tie into environmental impacts to reduce emissions though, rail could emerge a serious winner.

Will this French policy alter short haul travel forever? Only time will tell, but it just might.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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7 Comments

  1. I would say that’s a BIG NO, since “climate change” (LOL) is a hoax and the Wuhan Chinese virus is less virulent than the common flu each year.

  2. Seems reasonable. I’ve never understood why someone would fly NYC-DC instead of taking a train: 30 min to the airport + 90 min to get through security + 45 min flight + 30 min from the airport = 3:15, vs 2:30 on the train. The train is a much better experience, seat isn’t cramped, cheaper, you can get up and walk around, don’t have to check bags, etc. French trains are much better than the Acela, too.
    The trick to getting it to work with flights is linking airports to downtown train stations better. Heathrow is a great/lousy example of adding an hour of inconsistent commuter rail, which throws off attempts to make scheduled connections air to rail or vice versa.

    1. I generally agree, but your times assume 0 minutes to get to/from the train station and for security/waiting. That’s obviously not the case. The biggest reason I prefer the train between DC and NYC is that the trains run more or less on time, whereas in the crowded airspace of the northeast corridor, delays are frequent. I recall that, at least a few years ago, some flights between DC and NYC had on-time percentages in the single digits!

    2. “The trick to getting it to work with flights is linking airports to downtown train stations better.” Yes, and I’d add that it’s not just about linking to downtown but working with other modes of transport. In Frankfurt, for example, you can not only be downtown in about 15 minutes by S-Bahn, there is a train station right at the airport that has (in many cases hourly) connections to major cities in Germany and surrounding countries.

  3. “The revolution begins in France”? Hardly. This has been happening all over the world. There used to be many flights between Hamburg and Berlin, and Frankfurt and Cologne, for example. These have long been replaced by high-speed trains. Same on some routes in China.

  4. The French just did this because they are socialist and have fallen for the Sudo-religious ashram concept of man-made climate change impacting the ability of the planet to survive. They also have the advantage of a good rail system which many countries don’t have. I support using trains or cars for short distance travels anywhere but it shouldn’t be regulated by the government on a theory.

  5. Definitely don’t use the UK’s domestic rail network as an example to promote this. Overcrowded, frequent delays, hideously confusing ticketing and insane prices make flying attractive, even in such a small country.

    Also won’t happen in Australia, population centres are too spread out, and the infrastructure isn’t there (vs established air routes). They’ve been banging in about MEL-SYD fast rail for years and years.

    But, in countries like maybe Japan (even possibly France, I know nothing about France’s rail network other than TGV is fast and well regarded), it could work. I did a lot of travelling around Eastern Europe in my early 20s, and flying was a means to get to/from the UK only at the time.

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