Can we fly less? Evaluating the ‘necessity’ of air travel

Stefan Gössling, Paul Hanna, James Higham, Scott Cohen, Debbie Hopkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Air travel is often justified as ‘necessary’ or ‘unavoidable’, in the sense that trips have purpose and value. Yet it is evident that people travel for reasons that may include forced and voluntary movement, with motives ranging from visiting friends and family, to leisure, or business. In light of the challenge to decarbonise transport, and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this paper discusses the perceived necessity of flight from individual and societal perspectives, while considering moral and economic viewpoints. It suggests that travel motives have different degrees of ‘urgency’, and that the ‘necessity of flight’ cannot be generalised. To empirically test this hypothesis in an exploratory survey, we used mixed methods to examine the perspectives of 29 international students at Lund University, Sweden on the perceived importance of their flights (n = 587) over a six-year period (2012–2017). Results show that the value associated with individual flights depends on flight motive, experience, life stage, or situational factors. Notably, almost half of the leisure flights made lack importance. Implications are discussed in the context of climate policy and the future development of the aviation system.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101722
JournalJournal of Air Transport Management
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Environmental Sciences
  • Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)

Free keywords

  • Aviation
  • Climate policy
  • Flight shame
  • Induced demand
  • Paris agreement
  • Travel motives


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