Planes, trains and carbon shame: Which? finds travellers face paying a third more on average to travel by train than plane

As cuts to air passenger duty are set to encourage new and cheaper domestic flights from 1 April, Which? finds train travellers are already paying a premium on many routes. 

The consumer champion carried out snapshot research to find the cheapest available options for travelling by train and by plane over the Easter break on ten UK routes, and assessed the carbon emissions for each option.

Which?’s research found that plane journeys emit twice the Co2 on average (118% more) when compared with travelling by train, while train tickets are 35 per cent dearer. Just three out of ten routes are cheaper by train.

The starkest difference in price was for the Edinburgh to Bournemouth route, a journey which costs an eye-watering 239 per cent more to complete by train. The cheapest return rail fare available costs £127, even when using split ticketing on the outward journey and an advance fare for the return. In contrast, the return flight costs just £38.

While flying from Edinburgh to Bournemouth would be significantly easier on a traveller’s pocket, the environmental costs are much higher. A flight on this route emits an average of 218kg of CO2 per person, 131 per cent more than travelling by train.

The largest difference in pollution when comparing rail with air was for journeys between Newcastle and Southampton. Per person, carbon emissions on this route average 64.5kg by train, and 242kg per person by plane, 275 per cent more. This route was one of just three that are cheaper to complete by train, with a return ticket priced at £107 when using split tickets, compared with £175 to travel by air. However, the return rail journey would take over 11 hours, more than four times the duration by plane.

The only other two journeys found to be cheaper by rail were on the Edinburgh to Newquay route, and the Bristol to Aberdeen route. The former costs 13 per cent less at £250 for a return fare, but would take more than seven times as long to complete, with a total return journey time of 22 hours and 2 minutes. The Bristol to Aberdeen route meanwhile costs just over a fifth less by rail (21%) but takes 18 and a half hours for a return trip, more than six times as long as by plane.

Overall, the most polluting plane routes, according to Atmosfair, were Bristol to Aberdeen (351kg of CO2), Edinburgh to Newquay (319kg of CO2) and London to Inverness (306kg of CO2).

From tomorrow, (1 April) a cut to the air passenger duty (APD) for domestic flights will see airlines’ tax bills halved from £13 to £6.50 per passenger, with airlines incentivised to introduce more domestic routes as a result. Which? believes this may further widen the price gap between rail and air travel, particularly after recent hikes to rail fares of 5.9 per cent. As a result, we could soon see an uptick in pollution generated by inter-UK journeys, as fewer passengers opt to travel by rail.

Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said:

“As travellers become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of their journeys, many face a difficult trade off between the price of their ticket and the cost to the planet, with just three out of ten journeys we looked at working out cheaper by rail.

“For those who prefer to travel by train, there are steps you can take to cut costs. Take the time to compare dates and times to see if cheaper fares are available, and look into what railcards you might be eligible for, as these can save you up to a third of the ticket price. You may be able to make further savings by checking if split-ticketing is an option on your chosen route.”


Notes to editors:

  • Which? compared 10 routes across the UK for return train and flight fares for the 8th and 15th April, with the exception of  Bristol to Aberdeen. For this route researchers used 7th-14th April owing to no flights running on the other dates.

  • Each comparable route was checked on the same day and was at least 31 days in advance. For both trains and plane journeys, Which? recorded the cheapest ticket it could find on that day, but excluded any journeys arriving at the destination after midnight and leaving before 6am.

  • Flight prices were checked using Skyscanner and train prices were checked using Trainline (excluding booking fees) to find the cheapest possible fare, opting for advance tickets or split tickets where available. Prices have been rounded to the nearest pound.

  • Carbon emissions data for train journeys was taken from EcoPassenger. Carbon emissions data for plane journeys was taken from Atmosfair.

  • Return journey times do not factor in time spent in the airport prior to boarding or time taken to travel from city centres to airports.

  • Some train routes involve connecting travel by London Underground.

  • Table of tickets prices and Co2 emissions can be found below:


Flight cost

Train cost

% difference in cost

London to Edinburgh



75% more to go by train

London to Newquay



7% more to go by train

Glasgow to London



50% more to go by train

Manchester to Newquay



43% more to go by train

Bristol to Edinburgh



12% more to go by train

Newcastle to Southampton



39% less to go by train

Edinburgh to Bournemouth



239% more to go by train

Edinburgh to Newquay



13% less to go by train

London to Inverness



1% more to go by train

Bristol to Aberdeen



21% less to go by train


35% more to go by train on average


CO2e in KG pp by plane

CO2e in kg pp by train

Percentage difference

London to Edinburgh



109% more by plane

London to Newquay



26% less emitted by planes

Glasgow to London



185% more by plane

Manchester to Newquay



22% more by plane

Bristol to Edinburgh



68% more by plane

Newcastle to Southampton



275% more by plane

Edinburgh to Bournemouth



131% more by plane

Edinburgh to Newquay



108% more by plane

London to Inverness



165% more by plane

Bristol to Aberdeen



143% more by plane


118% more  by plane

  • Which? tips for saving on train travel:

  • For those looking to reduce their carbon footprint, Which? recommends passengers book their rail journey as far ahead of their date of travel as possible, in order to take advantage of cheaper advance fares.

  • Flexibility on travel dates and travelling off-peak should also make it easier to save money. There are now also more than nine types of railcard, so it is worth checking eligibility for these, as for a small upfront cost, these can offer significant savings over the course of a year.

  • Buying split tickets rather than a single ‘through’ ticket can also offer significant savings. For example, Which? previously found that the cost of a journey from Ipswich to Sheffield could be reduced by 66 per cent by splitting at Peterborough and Doncaster, for example.

  • Read more: Which? offers 10 tips for finding cheap train tickets

About Which?

Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.

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