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In the early 1990s, the Open Skies agreement between Europe and the US revolutionised commercial air travel, making it possible for airlines to fly almost any routes they wanted to, and paving the way for no-frills, budget air travel. With flights within Europe often being sold for less than the price of dinner at your destination, this was an awesome result for travellers, and Generation EasyJet was born.

Blame, Shame or be the Change?

30 years later, as COP26 closes with a plan that most agree is inadequate to meet our 1.5C temperature increase limit, and fails to financially support nations already most at risk, flying is no longer quite so appealing. Movements such as Sweden’s Flygskam (flight shaming) and FlightfreeUK suggest a willingness to pass up that massive carbon splurge, but as pandemic travel restrictions continue to be eased, there’s also an enormous pent-up demand, especially amongst younger people. A recent survey by Deloitte shows that on average, whilst 10% of people say they will fly less in future, amongst the under 30s, 3% suggested they would fly more as they feel they have already missed out so much. The desire to travel is clearly not going away, so how can we think differently about mobility?

Back to the Future

One obvious alternative is train travel, which was a far more popular option before air travel became so cheap. From Snowtrains that took skiers from London to the French Alps overnight, or motorail services that carried both cars and passengers from the north to the south of France, and even the celebrated Orient Express, long distance train travel is not new. As climate-conscious travellers look for alternatives however, so the market responds. The many options via Nightjet trains include Munich to Milan and Vienna to Venice, with further choices like Zurich to Zagreb offered in partnership with other national carriers. The Austrian OBB, the Swiss SBB, France’s SNCF and Deutsche Bahn are all investing heavily in the future, with a view of expanding night services from 6 to 10 lines. The next big route will be from Zurich to Barcelona via Bern and Geneva, with further plans to reopen the old Zurich to Rome line.

Getting Better all the Time

As the network expands so the horizons widen, and the only snag for travellers is how to book multi-country tickets. The SBB website has comprehensive European timetable coverage as well as a carbon calculator that tracks your footprint versus flying. They’ll even work out how many ‘productive hours’ you can have on the train, perfect if you want to work en route. Further, more personalised help is available from Swiss company, who can plan and book your travel to and from any train station in Europe, and give you a choice of fares and routes. And if you don’t know where to start, Simpletrain has a great blog for inspiration. Another Swiss brand to watch for in the sustainable travel space is Twiliner, currently developing low-emission, high comfort bus travel for long distance routes around Europe. Carrying a maximum 16 passengers in custom-built sleep pods with almost-horizontal beds, these coaches aim to make coach travel not just a viable but a desirable sustainable alternative to flying.

Meet the Changemakers

In the week that Swiss president Guy Parmelin said he wanted to position Switzerland as a ‘sustainability leader’ in tourism, the Zurich chapter of Impact Travel Alliance has gathered together the companies already responding to the need to change the way we travel. Come and meet SBB, SimpleTrain and Twiliner in Zurich on 25 November at the flagship store of Siech Cycles, home of Zurich’s coolest and most sustainable personal transportation option! We'll also hear the real life experiences of students who challenged AFS to arrange a flight-free exchange programme for them. The event is free and open to travel professionals, sustainability experts and anyone interested in personal carbon responsibility: sign up here

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