Gerad Kite used to spend his lunch hour walking along London's Marylebone Road breathing in the traffic fumes. Now, more often than not, the acupuncturist can be found sitting in the garden of his 17th century home in Southwest France, taking a leisurely lunch or working on his new book.
Kite hasn’t given up his career. Rather, he is one of a growing number of super-commuters – people who travel 145 km (90 miles) or more each way to their place of work. Many swap the daily commute for weekly or fortnightly travel and say their faraway homes give them a lifestyle not achievable within a shorter commute.
Every two weeks Kite flies 965 km (600 miles) to London from his local airport, cramming in two weeks’ worth of client treatments into several days. He rents a room near his work when he’s in town.
His income declined when he made the switch to super-commuting, but Kite said his travel expenses are low and the cost of living in France is much lower than in London — to the point he’s been able to pay off his debts.
“It's a better lifestyle,” Kite said.
Experts who study commuting estimate there could be hundreds of thousands of super-commuters worldwide, made possible in large part because of technological advances and the proliferation of low-cost airlines. Combined, these make it cheaper and easier for employees to work and commute from remote locations.
For instance, across Europe, low-cost airlines Easyjet and Ryanair now offer over 1,000 routes between them, with the cost of return flights between European destinations sometimes as low as 40 euros ($50), about the same price as a weekly travel pass on London's underground train network. In fact, a growing number of Easyjet's 12 million annual business travellers are super-commuters, according to the airline.
Between 2002 and 2009, the most up-to-date data available, New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation found that the number of super-commuters in Houston doubled to 251,200, accounting for 13.2% of the local workforce. In Manhattan, the group grew by 60% to 59,000, with Philadelphia – 161 km (100 miles) away from the city centre – the biggest source of the city's long-distance workers.
But super-commuting is much broader than such relatively short-distance trips. London's Metropolitan Police once had a police officer who commuted from New Zealand – 19,312 km (12,000 miles) away – working two months on and two months off. It is estimated that around 300,000 Lebanese travel three hours by plane to work in the Persian Gulf, often in the oil industry, yet maintain residency in Lebanon. Less extreme: the 322 km (200 miles) roundtrip from Tucson to Phoenix, the most popular super-commute in the United States, counting almost 55,000 workers who work in a range of industries, according to the Rudin Center research.