Why I Decided to Stop Flying
In January of 2019, I flew to Michigan to visit my grandmother. That’s the last time I flew, and I intend to keep it that way. Here’s why I decided to stop flying.
Reasons to fly
Let me first say that I’m talking about reasons an individual might choose to fly (or reasons a family might choose to fly, on a slightly larger scale). I’m not talking about the type of flying that gets fruit from South America to the United States. Personal and commercial flight are two separate issues with separate talking points, and today I’m talking about the personal choice of every individual whether or not to fly.
So, first off, let’s address the reasons people fly. In my mind, there are three main ones. First, people fly for business; second, people fly for leisure; and third, people fly for speed of travel.
Flying for business
Twenty or even ten years ago, an up-and-coming blogger in my position might’ve wanted to travel a lot to attend conferences or follow up on connections. To network, basically. And certainly an up-and-coming businessperson or engineer would want to travel, to please their boss or secure a travel-heavy job.
When it comes to business, businesses are trying to maximize their profits, and that means they’re trying to minimize the amount of time you spend traveling from point A to point B — which means plopping you on a plane, whether that plane is taking you from New York to Chicago or New York to Shanghai. (Not even sure if there is a nonstop New York to Shanghai flight, but there might well be in today’s day and age.) Most businesses haven’t started worrying about the environmental impact of flight yet. Some have, and I’m sure that as the years go by more will. But travel is still an essential part of many professional careers, and it’s a major reason for an individual to fly.
Flying for leisure
I get this one, too. In fact, as recently as two years ago, I was still flying for leisure. I flew out to Michigan to visit my grandmother. Now, if I had to make the same trip again, I’d either drive (unlikely, since I think my parent’s ailing car wouldn’t make it there, and I’m too young to legally rent a car in Massachusetts) or take a combination of bus and train (more likely). I’d probably enlist my boyfriend or one of my siblings as a traveling companion.
That flight to Michigan is the last time I flew, and I intend it to be the last time I ever fly. Which is sad, because I really enjoy air travel. I love being up in the air in a plane. I love the exhilaration of knowing you’re traveling faster than people ever imagined they’d be able to travel in the past — fifty miles in the blink of an eye. Springfield to Worcester in five minutes. Wow! Air travel is amazing. It’s a wonderful technology that has allowed the modern world to become what it is, more so than almost anything besides the Internet. But it’s also helping us dig our own grave.
There are a lot of places I thought I’d get to visit in the span of my life. I thought I’d be able to hop on a plane, head over to Europe, and explore the sites of ancient Greece and Rome. I thought I’d be able to go back to Mexico and see the non-resort-y areas. The mountains and the desert. I thought I’d be able to go to Korea, the ancestral homeland of my mother’s side of the family, and see first hand that land across the sea.
But no. While I’ll still be able to do those things, if I set my heart on them, they’ll take a bit more figuring out. Some boats and some trains. No planes. And when I honeymoon, I won’t be heading off to someplace far away and exotic. I’ll be heading to, maybe, a cabin in Maine, and getting there by car or by train.
Flying for speed of travel
You can group flying for expedience — speed and convenience — in with this one too.
Sometimes, you really want to get somewhere quickly.
I have this horror scenario in my head. By some fluke of chance, I end up living far away from Massachusetts, where I imagine my parents will stay. I get the news that my mother or father is dying and has days, if not hours, to live. I want to get there in time, so I’m faced with the choice of compromising my non-flying pact or missing out on my parent’s passing.
Right now, it’s easy for me to say I’d just take the train and get there a little slower and if I missed it, I’d miss it. I have three other siblings, one or two of whom I expect to stay near my parents, and one of them will make it in time. But I recognize that in the moment, the situation probably won’t be so simple. I’ll probably feel more conflicted about it. And I might hop on that plane.
If I did, I’d forgive myself for doing so. (Although my dying parent might not!) So I have very deep sympathy for anyone who finds themselves in this situation, which is growing ever more common as people move farther from “home” and as more people make a pact with themselves not to fly. If you’ve done either of those things, you’re not alone!
Of course, you can alleviate the risk by doing one or the other. For example, while I intend to move away from Medford, Massachusetts, I may not leave Massachusetts altogether, and if I do I’ll probably trade it for upstate New York or New Hampshire, neither of which are more then several hours’ drive from my childhood home.
Reasons not to fly
Unlike the reasons to fly, which are fairly few and fairly simple, the reasons to fly are more numerous and multi-faceted. I’m not going to go into too much detail on each one. But at the end, I will tell you which I found most convincing — which ones form the reasons why I decided to stop flying.
First and foremost, there’s the environmental toll of air travel. Imagine doing many things to help the environment. Buying solar panels for your house, recycling, using reusable bags. Driving an electric car. Unfortunately, your positive contribution to environmental welfare pales in comparison to the environmental toll of your annual flight to your skiing destination in the Alps. Oops!
A second reason has become all the more visible in 2020. Flying increases the chances of the spread of dangerous pandemic diseases. You bet that if there were less air travel between China and the United States, the coronavirus wouldn’t have gotten here as easily. It wouldn’t have “jumped” populations as easily. The world is more connected than ever before. And for that reason, pandemic diseases spread easily through the population of not only a single continent, but of the entire world.
Third, not having to rely on air travel makes you more resourceful and self-sufficient. You’ll have to work hard to arrange things like an overseas trip, but it can still be done! People have been traveling overseas for a lot longer than air travel has been a thing. (Hint: You might want to consider a boat.)
There are health reasons not to fly. If you’re someone who suffers a health condition, and flying puts you at risk, you may have already made the decision to prioritize your health over business, leisure, or speed. By not flying, you also avoid hassle. All that security? It takes a while. This point applies especially to shorter air trips, such as one from Boston to New York. Is that thirty minute wait in the security line really worth it?
Lastly, deciding not to fly brings you closer to your human roots. For millennia, people weren’t able to travel as widely as they might have liked to. Instead, they remained grounded in the world of their home, in their “now.” It’s possible that by traveling less, you’ll become a more grounded person (no joke intended) and perhaps a happier one.
For me, the climate toll of flying is the most compelling reason not to fly. I decided to stop flying because I recognized that everything I could do to help the climate, within my resources, would essentially become a moot point if I flew even once a year.
I will note that there are some developments that could change my mind on the matter. For example, sustainable air travel could conceivably be developed by the end of my life. If it is, I might consider flying again. But by then, I’ll probably have gone so long without it that I may not even feel the urge. We’ll wait and see!
What do you think about this issue? Do you fly? How often? Tell me about the most fabulous place you’ve ever flown to. Even though I decided to stop flying, I still like hearing about other people’s adventures! That’s why I follow several travel blogs. I’d love to hear your voice!
If you enjoyed this reflection on why I decided to stop flying, please pass it along! And you can follow Voyage of the Mind using the buttons in the sidebar at the top of the page, or subscribe to our newsletter at the bottom. If you’re loving the content we produce here, please consider supporting us on Ko-fi.
For another travel-related piece, try my road trip reflections.
Thank you for reading!