France Bans Some Shorter Domestic Flights to Curb Emissions

Short flights on select routes where the equivalent train ride is 2.5 hours or less are banned effective April 2022 (unless they connect to an international flight).

Interior of French train station

Starting this month, you’ll have to take a train instead of a plane on some domestic routes in France.

Photo by Eo naya/Shutterstock

The European Commission officially approved France’s plan to ban some short-haul flight routes where travelers could alternatively take a train in under 2.5 hours.

The ban aims to reduce carbon emissions caused by planes in France and is part of the country’s overall effort to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030. The new policy marks the first time a country has enacted a law prohibiting flights for environmental reasons.

The new law will affect three routes:

  • Flights between Paris Orly and Bordeaux
  • Flights between Paris Orly and Lyon
  • Flights between Paris Orly and Nantes

The original proposal, which was voted on in 2021, would have affected eight routes, although the European Commission said to start with these three, as they have multiple connections each way every day.

If rail services improve, three other routes could be added in the future:

  • Flights between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Lyon
  • Flights between Paris Charles de Gaulle and Rennes
  • Flights between Lyon and Marseilles

Those routes, according to the European Commission, don’t have early morning train connections, which can be problematic for travelers. The other proposed routes, Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bordeaux and Nantes, were nixed because the rail journey would take longer than 2.5 hours.

The Commission stated that the measure will last for three years, with a review after two.

It’s hard to say how much this will affect France’s carbon emissions, but according to a report in the Guardian, “Because so much of the pollution from any given flight takes place during take-off and landing cycles, the emissions produced per kilometer for each passenger on a domestic route are 70 percent higher than long haul flights–and six times higher than if the same journey was made by rail.”

As part of the French government’s 2020 pandemic bailout package, Air France was given more than $7 billion with the provision that the airline do more to combat any negative effects its operations have on the environment—banning the shorter flights was among the conditions. (Air France operated the bulk of flights on all three routes.) The measure was written into law the following year, partially because the government didn’t want other carriers to swoop in and claim those routes, effectively undermining Air France’s effort to be more sustainable.

Other European countries with similar measures

Other European countries have enacted similar measures in recent years, though none are an outright ban on short-haul flights. Austria replaced a flight route between Vienna and Salzburg with increased train service in 2020.

And Germany’s Aviation Association and Deutsche Bahn (the country’s main rail company) signed an agreement in 2021 to offer more high-speed train connections, making going by train instead of flying an easier choice for travelers. The two entities said that increase in rail service would give about 20 percent of air travelers (or about 4.3 million people a year) the option to travel by train instead, which could reduce carbon dioxide emissions generated by domestic air travel by a sixth.

This article originally published in April 2022 and has been updated with new information.

Bailey Berg is the associate travel news editor at AFAR, where she covers breaking news, trends, tips, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. When not interviewing sources or writing articles, she can be found exploring art galleries, visiting craft breweries, hiking with her dogs, and planning her next adventure (at present, she’s been to 75+ countries and hopes to spend time in every one someday).
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