What is flight shaming?

Global Business

Air travel is taking off like never before. A record four and a-half billion global passengers are expected to take flights this year. But with all the take-offs and landings, the airline industry emits nearly 900 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air annually, according to the International Air Transport Association. That has some people rethinking their flight plans. CGTN’s Karina Huber reports.

Environmental teen activist Greta Thunberg marches outside the U.N. in New York to spread her message about climate change. One of her commitments has been to fly less.

That’s why she chose to travel across the Atlantic to New York by boat instead of by plane.

“I’m not telling anyone what to do or what not to do. I’m just doing this because I want to do this,” said Thunberg.

In her native Sweden, flygskam or “flight shame” has become a movement, with a growing number of people concerned about the toll air travel is taking on the environment.

While airlines account for about two percent of carbon dioxide emissions globally, there are other particles released by planes like nitrogen oxide and contrails that have a significant warming effect.

KLM – already one of the world’s most efficient airlines – has jumped on board to help solve the problem. In June, it launched a campaign encouraging travelers to fly less.

NPR aviation journalist Seth Kaplan says the move was surprising and unprecedented, and it could benefit KLM in the long run.

“Maybe there are some people who will choose KLM because of the position that they’ve taken, so it could be good for business even if in a vacuum it seems somewhat crazy – the idea of an airline asking people not to fly,” he said.

In Sweden, rail travel has increased while internal flights have declined over the past year.

Kaplan says the movement could spread to other areas like China and Japan, but he’s doubtful it will catch on in the U.S.

“If you’re going to tell people not to fly, you’ve got to give them an alternative. In Europe, rail, trains are an alternative on a lot of short haul routes. If you look at a place like the U.S., it’s just not as much of an alternative,” he said.

The good news is planes have become more fuel efficient. The bad news is more people are flying than ever before which means total emissions from flight travel are on the rise.

At the moment, there is still little awareness about the impact of flight travel on the environment but that is rapidly changing as Greta’s influence is growing among younger populations. It’s a generation the airline industry can’t afford to ignore.

Brian Foley on efforts to reduce the carbon footprint from flying

CGTN’s Sean Callebs spoke with Brian Foley of Brian Foley Associates about the movement to get people to fly less or take other actions to offset their carbon footprint.