Spain Asks Travelers to Take Trains Instead of Planes on Shorter Domestic Routes

The country is following in France’s footsteps with a proposed ban on short-haul domestic flights.

Two-car train traveling on a bridge over Spain's Ebro River

The ban would apply to routes for which there is an existing rail trip that is less than 2.5 hours.

Photo by Hector Herrero Martin/Shutterstock

If you’re headed to Spain, there’s a chance there may be more trains—instead of planes—in your itinerary.

The country’s coalition government recently announced a plan to ban certain short-haul domestic flights that can be replaced by a rail trip of less than 2.5 hours, according to Euronews, which first reported the development.

The proposed plan, part of Spain’s 2050 climate action plan to reduce carbon emissions, has a notable exception: connecting flights on international routes at hub airports. It follows a similar move in France that banned certain short-haul flights for which an alternate train route is available, which took effect in 2023.

It’s not yet clear when the measures will be implemented or how many flights will be affected in Spain, where 9 percent of all greenhouse gases in the European Union originate. However, according to Politico EU, the goal is to focus on flights between cities such as Barcelona, Valencia, Alicante, Seville, and Madrid, routes that are currently operated by Iberia, Vueling, and Air Europa.

The potential development has already garnered strong criticism from some government officials in Spain, who claim that the move would stifle business and commerce.

However, some industry experts don’t predict much disruption for leisure travelers.

“For most travelers, the impact of this is probably very low,” Seth Miller, an industry analyst and founder of aviation site PaxEx.Aero, tells AFAR. “In many cases, airlines are keeping flights in place even on the shorter routes to handle connecting traffic for passengers coming in from overseas. But if you are planning a multicity trip once you’re in Spain and France, you may find yourself with fewer options to get between the cities once you’re there. Personally, I think it’s okay, though, because the trains are generally a more pleasant experience.”

According to Euronews, the draft document by Spain’s two political parties—the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party and Sumar—could potentially restrict private jet use too. A 2023 report from Greenpeace claimed that more than 45,000 private jets departed from a Spanish airport in 2022, emitting 243,000 tons of carbon dioxide—a whopping 92 percent increase from 2021. The report also said 8 percent of all private flights in Europe depart from Spain.

Similar measures across Europe

Even though measures to ban certain short-haul flights might be viewed as largely symbolic, travelers are likely to see more initiatives focusing on sustainability as Europe moves toward its goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2050.

By 2026, the European Union will phase out the free permits that it currently provides airlines to offset their dioxide emissions. As a result, airlines will have to pay for their carbon emissions—costs likely to be passed on to the consumer.

In addition, some countries are in the process of creating legislation that discourages air travel. Starting in 2025, Denmark will charge air travelers a “green tax” of 100 Danish marks (about $14.60) to help finance the country’s transition to sustainable aviation practices.

German carrier Lufthansa, meanwhile, has introduced “green fares” on select routes within Europe and internationally. Such fares include the use of sustainable aviation fuel and contribute to climate protection projects.

Germany also is encouraging travelers to use the train. In 2021, Germany’s Aviation Association and its national rail company, Deutsche Bahn, signed an agreement to offer more high-speed train connections, making travel by train instead of air an easier choice for travelers on certain routes. The two entities claim that an increase in rail service would provide approximately 20 percent of air travelers—about 4.3 million passengers annually—the option to travel by train instead. As a result, the carbon dioxide emissions generated by domestic air travel could be reduced by about 17 percent.

Finally, since France and now possibly Spain have introduced bans on shorter flights, it incentivizes other countries to follow suit.

“Being the first to implement a policy like this comes with notable risks,” Miller says. “But with France and now Spain pushing short-haul travel toward trains rather than planes, it can help other governments see that a shift is possible, and without catastrophic side effects.”

Journalist Blane Bachelor regularly contributes to outlets including CNN, Conde Nast Traveler, and Garden & Gun. Her main specialties are travel and aviation, but she especially loves offbeat topics (like anything spooky or haunted!). Blane was born and raised in Florida and has lived in four countries abroad. Her current base is Amsterdam, where she resides with her husband and son.
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