hidden europe 60

The Flyer's Dilemma

by hidden europe


How would you react if you definitively knew that each flight you took would shorten your life by three months?

The flyer’s dilemma, namely how we react to (or ignore) the ethical, practical and moral considerations associated with the decision to take a flight, has been the subject of thoughtful scholarly debate. Those discussions raise profound questions for the transport and tourism policy communities.

The dilemma was nicely formulated by Elisabeth Rosenthal, an American doctor and journalist, who in 2010 wrote an influential piece in the Guardian newspaper entitled “Can we kick our addiction to flying?” The title is telling as it couches the problem of repetitive discretionary flying as a behavioural addiction.

Philosophers, geographers and policy makers have piled into the debate, with most contributors taking care to distinguish between 1. flights which someone is required to make as a condition of their employment (work-miles), 2. flights that are made to keep in touch with family (love-miles), and 3. flights which are entirely discretionary and taken in pursuit of leisure and recreation (fun-miles).

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Editorial hidden europe 61

Coronavirus seemed merely a distant threat as the last issue of hidden europe went to press on 28 February. We then spent the early part of March in Luxembourg and Switzerland, making tracks for Berlin just as much of Europe shut down due to Coronavirus. Life suddenly became quieter. We all had time to think.

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Editorial hidden europe 63

Is there not a measure of absurdity in all our lives today? We have discovered that it’s hardly possible to plan anything. And yet there is a certain liberation in simply not trying to plan, in just receiving with simplicity all that might come our way. This may of course be the secret of enjoying travel, as and when the day comes when we can start exploring Europe again.