Flight shaming reaches America as impact grows


In Sweden, where flight shaming began barely a year ago, air travel has dropped 5% as the public think and shift their travel methods.

Its believed to have dropped by 1% across Europe across active working age groups, but in certain age groups – especially those labelled millennials (18-37 years), it’s thought to have dropped around 15%. That’s a serious number.

At the recent world IATA conference in Seoul the subject inevitably came up and airlines felt a bit miffed that they were being blamed for a raft of problems to do with the environment.

A recent editorial by Karen Walker in ATW, probably the most influential aviation publication on the planet, tried to suggest to airlines that they weren’t doing enough to get across what they were doing.

They are trying, I totally agree with her. Biofuels are being used – but in pathetically small quantities, because airports and fuel distribution systems are unwilling to change or too expensive to update.

They are trying to do more when it comes to carbon offsets. But not enough, and despite making the option to contribute available to passengers – under 2% do. Perhaps they should make it compulsory?

They are buying new aircraft, more efficient, quieter, less polluting. But they are looking at doubling their use 50% over the next 15 years so emissions are rising, despite cuts of 15-30% in individual aircraft output.

They still use way too much single use plastic and only HiFly have really experimented with not using them.

The aviation industry does do good. It gives millions of people travel, economic and experience opportunities beyond imagination even 25 years ago. But it still does very little to prove it’s not at huge environmental cost.

That’s the point the flight shamers are trying to get across. And the climate protesters in the UK. Every airline says they’re doing something but what they’re doing is a drop in the ocean, too little too late.

Just to prove how out of touch government is, the UK just published a white paper placing a tax on air fares that will be used to offset a passengers carbon emissions. But its voluntary, and you don’t have to pay it. Airlines already offer these options and people don’t pay them. So while it’s a good idea, its not original and it won’t work. It’s the failure to see that and do something concrete that so frustrates the climate change protesters and the public in general. With the worlds highest Airport Departure Tax, the argument should be that some of that should be used to offset emissions, but that falls on deaf ears.

Now I’ll give airlines like Lufthansa and KLM especially, their full credit. My latest flights to Bucharest via Frankfurt had the amount of Co2 I was responsible for typed very clearly on the ticket and invoices: – Some 73kg to get FRA and 87kg to get from FRA to Bucharest – one way. A typical 2.0L car would produce around 240kg to do the same journey, but takes around two days.

Go by train and that drops massively, to barely 30kg for the whole trip, but again, 2 days.

The reality is aviation is here to stay, but we have top work with it to make things better. Passengers have to pay the offset charges, and be happy doing so, and we need to make airlines aware that when it comes to recyclables and single use plastics, they can do far, far better.

As the UK heads towards a record high daytime temperature – again – and the US basks in searing heat after severe cold and devastating mid-western floods, California forest fires and Gulf rain storms, Alaska is sat in 90F weather. We know its happening, we can see it and feel it, but working with aviation and getting it to adopt new ideas and policies has to be market driven – or legislated for.

I love aviation, you do, but its not doing enough. No business does until its made to, or it affects its bottom line.

A friend of mine said to me years ago “I don’t care about the future environment, what’s it ever going to do for me when I’m dead?”.

I saw him recently. He now thinks his last days are going to be in a climate purgatory. For the millenials, much of their life and that of their children could be spent in it. That’s why they’re making such a fuss.

It doesn’t mater that they might be wrong, or going about it wrongly, as long as they make us all think. And then act.

Meanwhile, young Americans, through YouTube and other social media are looking to take action, because while old people in government sit and ignore the problems, they’ll be dead when they’re at their worst. School age people will be left to suffer the consequences. Aviation is their target. Its easy its simple and its obvious. And it needs to act before it starts to feel the wrath of its next generation of customers who know that Skype and FaceTime are just as effective and far less damaging.

We can’t and we shouldn’t stop flying. But we must be willing to do our bit to compensate for it.

Full disclosure: 

I spent 30 years working in the auto industry, then aviation, both areas responsible for the way the world is now, improving lives economically but damaging the environment in the process. I have deeply mixed feelings about being partly responsible for the world in which we live, however small. Back then we didn’t see the problem. My experience is THAT NEITHER INDUSTRY WILL DO ANYTHING BECAUSE IT WANTS TO. They have to be made to change, through public pressure and market forces  coupled to government action.

I’m not going to stop flying, but I have stopped driving, and I do care about the industries I worked in and the future of our planet. They need to be compelled to work together for the benefit of all.