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The Case for Curtailing Short-Haul Flights and Embracing Greener Alternatives

Revamping the US Transportation Landscape for Environmental Sustainability and Economic Growth

As our world grapples with the pressing challenge of climate change, there's an urgent need to critically examine and reshape our most carbon-intensive practices. In the realm of transportation, one of the most glaringly unsustainable aspects is the heavy reliance on short-haul flights. This is a sector where potential changes could bring significant carbon reductions while benefiting consumers and aiding local economies.

In the United States, a staggering number of short-haul flights—those less than 4 hours' drive away—are operated daily. The environmental cost of these trips is considerable. Aircraft are extremely fuel-inefficient for short distances, where takeoff and landing, the most energy-intensive parts of a flight, constitute a significant portion of the journey.

France has taken a bold step forward in this arena, recently banning short-haul flights where train alternatives are available. This move has sparked crucial discussions about the possibilities and implications of similar policies elsewhere. It's time for the United States to not only join this conversation, but lead it, with innovative, sustainable solutions.

Let's envision a policy where flights to locations less than a 4-hour drive away are replaced by alternative, less carbon-intensive modes of transportation, like buses or trains. Airlines would be required to provide or partner with an existing operator, American Airlines recently proved this is possible with a new kind of bus connection. This could be an avenue for airlines to diversify their offerings, invest in new technologies like electric buses, and establish new partnerships, all while contributing to a more sustainable transportation ecosystem.

In the same vein, the US's Essential Air Service (EAS) program, designed to guarantee that smaller communities are served by airlines, could be expanded to include bus services. Many of the communities that the EAS currently covers are within a few hours' drive of major airports, making them ideal for bus service (or rail where possible). An updated EAS program could ensure more efficient, sustainable, and accessible transportation for these communities.

Meanwhile, we need to address another outdated and environmentally harmful practice: hidden city pricing. This is when a flight with a layover is cheaper than a direct flight to the layover city. This anomaly in airline pricing discourages direct, efficient travel and encourages unnecessary flying, contributing to excess carbon emissions. Airlines are already getting frustrated with customers that purchase these tickets and intentionally miss their second flight. Banning this practice is a necessary step towards more transparent, sustainable air travel, while forcing airlines to follow more consumer friendly business practices.

We have the knowledge and technology to make this shift. The obstacles are not insurmountable; they merely require political will, corporate initiative, and public support. The first step is policy change. Policymakers need to seriously consider proposals to restrict short-haul flights and to reform how we fund and restructure essential air services to include ground options.

In conclusion, while these policy changes may seem drastic, they represent the level of ambition we need to face the urgent climate crisis. It's not just about greener transportation; it's about ensuring a sustainable future. By curtailing short-haul flights and investing in greener alternatives, we can pave the way for a more sustainable and equitable transportation sector. The time to act is now. Let us strive to leave our world better than we found it.

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