Should France Ban Domestic Flights?

A group of French politicians is reportedly proposing a domestic flight ban. While the ban makes sense on some levels, is an outright ban really the answer? Simple Flying analyses the situation.

France Domestic Flights
A group of French politicians is investigating banning domestic flights in France. Photos: HOP! (top) | SNCF (bottom)

France has a fairly robust high-speed rail network. As such, politicians are proposing that domestic flights should be banned, encouraging people to take the train instead. Indeed, the railway is widely regarded as being less environmentally damaging. However, a complete ban seems quite extreme. Maybe there is another way, such as incentives, or additional taxes. Well, the Simple Flying team sat down and analysed some of the possibilities.

Why the ban?

Banning domestic flights is not a new concept. In fact, earlier this year Simple Flying reported that a group of Dutch MPs were attempting to ban Brussels to Amsterdam flights. The thinking is sound. A train can carry far more passengers and is less damaging for the environment.

Indeed, we decided to dig into some statistics from the Department of the Environment, Fisheries and Rural Affairs to illustrate this point. According to DEFRA, a domestic passenger flight for business purposes uses 0.25kg of CO2 per passenger kilometre. However, the comparable figure for rail transport is 0.04kg of CO2 per passenger kilometre.

If you look at the numbers, including the faff of the airport and connections to the city, it is actually quicker to take the train on some routes such as Paris to Lyon. Now, this, of course, may not be the case on some longer domestic routes.

France Domestic Flight Ban
HOP! is a major provider of domestic flights in France. Photo: HOP!

Incentives or tax?

There are times when a flight is either necessary or strongly preferable. Rather than imposing a blanket ban on domestic flights, the government could instead incentivise passengers to take a long distance train.

One great example could be incremental taxes. For example, for your first four domestic flights you pay the regular tax, then for the next ten you pay slightly more tax, then slightly more for the next ten, etc. This would make passengers question whether they really need to take a flight, while still allowing those who really need to, to fly. This also has the additional advantage that the extra tax could be allocated to environmental causes, such as offsetting CO2 emissions.

There is also the possibility of making the train more appealing. One idea, which would likely be unpopular with airlines, could be to offer a cheaper train alternative when searching for flights. Say you search for Paris to Lyon, the cheapest flight on offer is €51, however, a comparable train is available for €45. Not a huge saving, but if marketed correctly could potentially sway travellers.

France Domestic Flight Ban
France could incentivise passengers to pick the train instead. Photo: SNCF

Will it happen?

While it’s uncertain whether a bill to scrap domestic flights would pass, I doubt it is just around the corner. Any such bill would likely gain huge support from environmentalists, however, you would expect some opposition from the airlines it would affect. In particular Air France and its subsidiaries.

Personally, I think a different approach to an outright ban is the right way to go. What about you? Do you think France should ban domestic flights? Let us know in the comments!