Greta Thunberg's flight shaming catches on around the world, air travel takes a hit

Commercial flying accounts for about 2 percent of global carbon emissions and about 12 percent of transport emissions.


One in five travellers is flying less as “flight shaming” propels travellers to shun air travel for the sake of the planet, according to a survey of 6,000 Western travellers.

The survey predicted environmental concerns would keep denting air traffic, as activists such as Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg lead the way and turn people off planes.

Emma Kemp, 25, a campaigner and fundraising manager at British climate change charity 10:10, said she skipped flying for her last holidays to Italy and Croatia and opted to get around by coach, train and ferry instead.

“I felt I was really travelling,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “And I felt at peace with myself, having done something for the planet.”

Greta Thunbergs flight shaming catches on around the world, air travel takes a hit

Flight shaming is starting to affect the airline industry.

If these trends continue, the expected growth in passenger numbers could be halved, Swiss bank UBS said in a report published this week.

A survey of more than 6,000 respondents in July and August showed that, on average, one in five travellers in the United States, France, Britain and Germany had cut air travel by at least one flight in the past year because of climate concerns.

Commercial flying accounts for about 2 percent of global carbon emissions and about 12 percent of transport emissions, according to the Air Transport Action Group, an aviation industry group.

The survey also found that the percentage of people thinking of reducing their flying for the same reason had climbed to 27 percent, up from 20 percent in a previous survey during May 2019.

“With the pace of the climate change debate, we think it is fair to assume that these trends are likely to continue in developed markets,” wrote UBS analyst Celine Fornaro.

UBS said it expects the number of flights in the European Union will increase by just 1.5 percent per year, which is half the rate predicted by planemaker Airbus.

Any cut in air travel will hit air manufacturers hard, with new plane orders at risk if travellers increasingly turn to trains and boats to travel with a cleaner conscience.

In August, 16-year-old Thunberg — an icon for young environmental protesters — crossed the Atlantic in a racing yacht with no shower or toilet to join protests in the United States and take part in a United Nations summit.

Thunberg said the voyage cut her own carbon footprint and “sends a signal to other people around you that the climate crisis is a real thing.”

Greta Thunberg has spurned this movement in sweden. image credit: Flickr/European Parliament

Greta Thunberg has spurned this movement in sweden. image credit: Flickr/European Parliament

Her homeland of Sweden has led a movement that rests on the notice that travelling on kerosene-guzzling jets is shameful.

It was also responsible for the phrase ‘flygskam’— exported as “flight shaming” in English and trending as ‘avihonte’ on French social media.

Scandinavian airline SAS AB has seen passenger traffic shrink 2 percent this year, while Sweden’s airport operator said it handled 9 percent fewer passengers for domestic flights this year than in 2018. Both have blamed ‘flight shame’.

Companies, such as Klarna Bank AB, are cutting back on business flights. The Swedish bank has banned all employee air travel within Europe and discourages long-haul flights.

The anti-flying movement, which emerged in 2017 after singer Staffan Lindberg pledged to give up flying, has now spread well beyond its native Sweden.

Germany has announced plans to cut taxes for train journeys and boost levies on flights. And as world leaders met in New York last month, delegates were quick to quiz each other on how they got to New York as ‘flight shame’ reached peak attention.

“If there’s an elephant in the room ... of course it’s aviation,” Norway’s Minister for Climate and Environment Ola Elvestuen told the event.