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JOHN DeMONT: Being a nervous flyer isn't the only reason to think that flying sucks

A Porter Airlines flight from St. John's approaches the runway at the Halifax Stanfield Airport on Monday, January 6, 2020.
A Porter Airlines flight from St. John's approaches the runway at the Halifax Stanfield Airport on Monday. - Ryan Taplin
HALIFAX, N.S. —

When I heard the other day that colleague Eric Wynne was on the WestJet flight that slid off the runway into the grass at Stanfield International Airport my first reaction was, naturally, concern that he and the other passenger and crew were okay. 

But Wynne, who has seen some things, seemed nonplussed by the whole thing. He told our own Ian Fairclough that there had been some wind shear as the flight from Toronto neared the Halifax runway.

Otherwise, if the pilot hadn’t said so, Wynne probably wouldn't have known that the Boing-737 had gone off the tarmac.

“It was basically like a car sliding off the road onto the grassy shoulder,” Wynne said. “That's all this is. It's not calamitous, it's not dire. No one was hurt.”

Once I knew everybody was fine, a new thought slipped into my head: that the possibility of over-shooting an icy runway was yet another reason not to fly. 

Oh, I know the stats. We all do: we’re more likely to be electrocuted by the remote control while cycling through the Netflix options than injured while aboard an airplane. Or something like that.

But I’m biased. I just don’t like anything about air travel, partly because I can be a nervous flyer, partly because it just sucks: the crappy air, the shrinking leg and arm space, the pitiful options for drink and food. 

Granted, I don’t live one of those jet-setting 21st century lives that requires me to be in Moncton one day and Madrid the next.

I am glad of that, since I like to take my time when I travel, leaving and finishing when I want, appreciating the passing sights from ground level, with only people whose presence I enjoy as company, while I alpha-male the sound system. 

The idea of spending two days aboard a plane so that I can spend five days of my vacation week somewhere far away makes no sense to me.
 
Now, I fully accept that this may just be a woeful lack of imagination on my part. But if you are looking for balance, I suggest you look elsewhere in this paper, because I’ve pretty much made my mind up about flight. 

As such, I collect factoids about the downside of air travel like Trumpers on the hunt for dirt on Barack Obama.

The other day, when I met someone who said that he and his wife were driving rather than flying from Nova Scotia down to Arizona for the winter, I paid attention. 

This guy, you should know, is off the grid. He grows lots of his own food, not just because he takes pleasure in producing what he eats, but also because he worries about his carbon footprint.

This fellow, whose name is Peter, said that flying is bad for the environment. He had lots of research, off the top of his head, to back this up. But I was without a notebook, and it was late enough in the evening. 

So I had to wait until Tuesday to fact-check his main points. 

There are reams of information on the web on the question of the environmental impact of driving vs. flying. 

But a few things are undeniable. (Climate change deniers please hold your fire for a moment.)

Air flights produce greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, by burning fuel. When released into the atmosphere, these gases contribute to global warming. 

According to the International Air Transport Association, an umbrella organization representing the world’s airlines, aviation contributes about 2 per cent of the world's global carbon emissions. The same group has also predicted that air passenger numbers will double by 2037.  
The most basic sort of math dictates that as more wind turbines and electric cars come on stream, and the rest of the economy becomes greener, aviation's proportion of total emissions is sure to rise.

For people like Peter, this is where the whole flying question gets worrisome.

According to an online calculator from Offsetters, a Vancouver-based outfit that helps organizations reduce their carbon footprint, one passenger flying in economy round-trip from Halifax to Toronto is responsible for the emission of about 400 kilograms of CO2. 

For comparison’s sakes, that’s about 9 per cent of the carbon dioxide emitted by my 2018 Volkswagen Golf during an entire year. (The average Canadian driver, according to the same organization, wracks up 20,000 km over 12 months.)

Fly back and forth between here and Hogtown a dozen times — a modest level of frequency for many folks with active careers — and its like you’re keeping another car on the road. 

Now you get why people like activist Greta Thunberg and Elizabeth May sail or take the train rather than fly. 

It’s the environment stupid, they said over and over again to anyone who would listen. 

Suddenly, it seems like they’re right. Why, as far as I’m concerned the carbon emissions issue may even be up there with those little bags of peanuts, and the wide-legged guy in the next seat.

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