The debate about the value of air travel and the balance of its positive and negative impacts often focuses on two categories of passengers: business and leisure. Some of the arguments can go something like this:
Pro: Business travel supports a successful economy. It attracts and retains international investment and companies who provide local jobs. It enables the economy to export skills and services, as well as goods.
Con: Global business might require global connections, but in this day and age, such connections can be virtual. Why clock up so many air miles when video conferencing is so readily available? Aren’t home-grown businesses more valuable to the local economy anyway?
Pro: Think of all the tourism dollars attracted by leisure travellers. Foreign travel supports the local economies in many places that might not be maintained otherwise. Foreign travel broadens people’s minds and improves international relations and understanding.
Con: What about all the tourism dollars from staycations? Local people can support local places. They will go to more than the most famous/historic/dramatic places. Nor is foreign travel a progressive policy, as the poor cannot afford to have their minds thus broadened.
I could go on. I agree with some of the arguments from both sides and disagree with others. On balance, I believe air travel offers more opportunities than threats to our way of life and is a positive influence in our global world. However, there are ways to make it more efficient and less harmful to the environment. But what I really wanted to point out is how often these debates completely ignore a third major purpose for international travel.
Despite the constant political and media frenzy about migration and immigration issues, despite the recognition that cities and neighbourhoods and even families are more and more diverse in terms of race, religion and ethnicity, there seems to be no acknowledgement that the results of this diversity are more globalised families, not just globalised economies. Air transport enthusiasts and environmentalists alike do not appear to consider that flying to see friends and family in other countries might be called leisure travel, but it is not necessarily tourism, and unlike a holiday, the destination is not a matter of choice, but of filial duty.
I am an American living in Britain. My husband’s family is British, but my family all lives in the United States. On our current visit, we are seeing almost 20 immediate and extended family members over the course of two weeks, as well as a fair number of old friends. On our last visit, we managed to squeeze in even a few more.
Facebook and Skype are all very well, but I find that face to face visits are necessary to maintain close relationships, and how could one deny a grandparent being able to hug and kiss their grandchildren in person?
Perhaps there is an argument that people should avoid forming such international families in the first place, but it is not convincing. Not only would that ignore all such families that have formed over the generations of emigration and immigration that have populated the United States, been created by European Imperial ambitions or otherwise formed in centuries of historical events and current refugee crises, but it would also deny the forces that can form families when people travel for business or leisure without any initial intention to remain.
Study and then work originally brought me to the UK, and frequently attract citizens to move between countries even if there is no force compelling them to leave their place of origin. When people travel and choose to study, work or volunteer in a foreign country, it is not surprising that they form relationships along the way, sometimes with citizens of their host country. Especially as so many people travel when they are in their 20s and 30s, looking for the best opportunities before they form a family of their own.
Therefore, I believe that the debate over air travel should not forget the world citizens that have personal connections in different countries. Relationships must be maintained if such citizens are to continue productively contributing to not only in their adopted country, but also in creating a more interconnected, tolerant global society.