(james benedict brown) on the road

My flight memory

Posted in Posts by James Benedict Brown on 23 June, 2010

About a month ago I rediscovered my FlightMemory account. It had lain dormant for a couple of years, and on a quiet evening I was able to bring up to date relatively easily. FlightMemory is a free-for-basic / paid-for-premium online service that allows you to log aeroplane flights in an online database. You can specify the date, time, route, airline, aircraft; even the seat number. It can then calculate the flown distance to build a comprehensive database of how far you’ve flown, and which airlines and aircraft you’ve used the most

Even if it were possible to do it – which I don’t think it realistically is – the site doesn’t offer you an indication of the carbon emissions or environmental impact of one’s travels. Different planes, different engines, different climatic conditions, different passenger and cargo loadings, etc. all conspire to make each flight unique. By its very nature, the website seems to err on the side of celebrating rather than lamenting flying. There’s a machismo table of users so that you compare the size of your emissions to the size of everyone elses.

Although I appreciate that the very act of blogging about my (publicly accessible) statistics makes me guilty of participating in the macho competition. But to put it in layman’s terms, I’m prepared to admit that I have flown too much in my lifetime.

I’ve now flown in excess of 125,000 miles, equivalent to five circumnavigations of the planet, or half the distance between the Earth and the Moon. I’ve been able to take into account almost every commercial flight I’ve ever taken, starting with a short cross-channel hop in a Dornier 228 in 1994 (although the exact date still eludes me) up until the Ryanair flight I took this morning. All my recent flights have been booked online, so the receipts were somewhere in my inbox. My diaries filled in the gaps, and only a few school and university trips to Europe are missing precise journey data.

FlightMemory will generate a global, continental and domestic map for each user, personalised around their home country. The European visualisation of my travels is a record of many different holidays and study trips, but doesn’t represent the many journeys I’ve taken to France, Belgium and the Netherlands by train. At a push I’d guess roughly half my trips to the continent have been by train, so don’t throw the book at me yet.

My UK map is, however, a dense hive of lines, primarily because of my personal and professional connections between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. By my reckoning, I’ve only ever flown domestically within Great Britain three times, the train having always been cheaper and more attractive. But the real damage to the environment (and the real damage to my personal life) has been my commute between Glasgow and Belfast. While the longest route I’ve flown was more than 4,200 miles in length (from Edmonton to London) the shortest is between Belfast and Prestwick, at just 80 miles – the shortest route operated anywhere in Europe by Ryanair, and one that is quite surreal in a Boeing 737-800 series, lasting as little as twenty minutes tarmac to tarmac.

According to FlightMemory, I’ve now flown between Belfast and Glasgow fifty times. Strangely I’ve flown to Belfast more times than I’ve flown to Glasgow, and yet as I look around me, I’m still in Glasgow. Similarly, until earlier this year, Glasgow International Airport was one that I had departed from several times, but never arrived into. Having now done both, however, I can confirm it’s a ****hole whichever way you pass through it, and more expensive to use than comparable airports.

This unpleasant existence of commuting across the Irish Sea will continue for the next year or so. As long as I remember, I’ll keep updating the FlightMemory too, although I look forward to the day when I doubt have any trips planned by plane.

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