Anna Hughes

Anna is the organiser of Flight Free UK and author of Eat, Sleep, Cycle: A Bike Ride Around the Coast of Britain

The last time I sat on a plane was around 10 years ago, on a visit to see my sister in Jersey. It was one of just a handful of flights I’ve ever taken – a few trips to various European cities and Mediterranean islands throughout my late teens and early 20s, and a single long-haul flight to New York for my 21st birthday – but for some reason it was the one that made me question most what I was doing. Though I had been aware of the climate impact of aviation for many years, and had taken steps in other areas of my life to be green, I hadn’t really appreciated how much my carbon footprint grew with each flight. Stepping off that plane in the Channel Islands, not far off being able to actually see where I’d just flown from, I thought, what am I doing? There is a perfectly good boat that goes to Jersey with a fraction of the emissions. It’s not much use my being vegan and buying green energy and not driving if I continue to travel by plane. And that was my last flight. Arriving by boat is far more exciting anyway.

Since then, it’s not like I haven’t travelled. I’ve been to Copenhagen, the Mediterranean, Ireland, France, Germany, and I’ve done lots of travelling within the UK. A flight-free life isn’t a boring life, or a restrictive one. I’m perfectly able to access all the places I want to go, and if I do decide to cross oceans one day, it will be by sea rather than sky.


For years, my individual actions have remained just that: individual. Quiet, understated, personal choices that fit with my desire to live a sustainable life. That has always been enough. But not any more. We are on the brink of climate breakdown. Species are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is at its highest level ever. So I’m no longer happy with quietly living my sustainable life – I feel a strong drive to encourage everyone to look at their actions, too, and examine where they could make different choices.

That’s where Flight Free 2020 started. It’s a people-powered campaign that encourages people to reduce their carbon footprint by pledging to take a year off flying. The pledge doesn’t activate until it reaches 100,000, which means that it’s not just one person acting alone and feeling that their action doesn’t achieve anything. If we can show that many people are willing to make a change in order to avoid climate breakdown, we could start to influence industry and government policy.

The campaign is modelled on the Swedish version that started last year, and has contributed to a drop in flight bookings and a rise in rail travel. It’s also feeding into the wider climate change debate and influencing government policy on things like Air Passenger Duty.

Because flying really is where we make the most impact. Just one transatlantic flight can bump up your carbon footprint by 3 tonnes of CO2 – more than the annual allowance recommended by the IPCC. So taking a year off flying could be your most positive step in addressing the coming climate crisis.

Could you do it?