airBaltic’s CEO Says People Shouldn’t Feel Shame When Flying

Flight shame has been the big word in aviation over the course of the last year. As campaigners like Greta Thunberg take the limelight, flying has started to be seen as something of a dirty habit. However, for many people flying is not fun or a luxury; it’s essential to stay in touch with those they love most. Air Baltic’s CEO, Martin Gauss, talked to Simple Flying about why people should not feel ashamed to fly.

airBaltic A220-500
airBaltic’s CEO says people should not feel shame. Photo: airBaltic

Flight is a necessity

Simple Flying caught up with CEO of airBaltic Martin Gauss to discuss the impact of flight shame. From the outset, Mr. Gauss made it clear that he is strongly opposed to the entire idea of feeling ashamed for flying. He also said that airBaltic has not seen any impact in terms of traffic as a result of last year’s campaign.

In the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in particular, flying is not just a luxury; it’s an absolute necessity to staying connected to friends and family. Mr. Gauss explained,

“We see ourselves as a connectivity provider. If we look at the Baltic states especially, our history has shaped our society in such a way that for the last 30 years, people have left their homes to find work elsewhere.

“Today, these people are wanting to fly home to their families. Would you really say to such a person that they should be ashamed of flying? I think that wording is very bad, to say that somebody should be ashamed. It is each individual’s decision as to whether they take a plane or not, but to blame people, to put shame on people for using something that connects society, I think is shameful in itself.”

airBaltic, new routes, summer 2020
airBaltic’s CEO, Martin Gauss,. Photo: Simple Flying

The Baltic states have some of the highest emigration rates in Europe. Migration Policy estimates that 20% of Latvians live abroad, while 17% of Lithuanians and 15% of Estonians also live outside of their birth country. That’s almost a million people who have traveled away from their homes to find work and opportunity, leaving loved ones behind.

The CEO makes a good point; why should these people feel ashamed to fly? Due to the distances involved, other options are usually unrealistic. Few rail connections exist; there’s not even a direct train service running between the Baltic capitals, although you can travel from Tallinn to Riga by train with a stop at Valga according to Lonely Planet. Coming from further away such as western Europe makes terrestrial travel near impossible, and certainly not achievable during a short holiday from work.

We should feel proud

Gauss went on to tell me how vital air connectivity is, not just to the Baltic states or even to Europe, but to the whole entire globe.

“We should be proud that we have such incredible technology available to us to connect societies all over the world. The connectivity that we provide as airlines is vital to the development of the world as we know it, and we’re not only talking about some countries in Europe. There’s a whole globe where you need to fly to enable economic and societal growth.”

Air France, Airbus, A220-500
Passengers should feel proud. Photo: airBaltic

This is something I picked up upon previously. Flight shame and the idea that we could live as we do without aviation is highly irresponsible. In fact, it’s just ridiculous when you consider the actual contribution to overall CO2 emissions that aviation makes. Mr. Gauss agreed, saying,

“Yes, we do produce CO2 when we fly, that is correct. We produced 2.8% of all man-made CO2 this year; it’s still 2.8% but we are by far one of the smaller contributors.

“Shipping contributes 19% of CO2 emissions. But nobody says you should be ashamed of having a container ship going from A to B. The cement industry produces 730 kilos of CO2 per tonne of cement. Does that mean we should stop building? Nobody says that because people want to live in homes.

“The focus is on the airlines now and I think it is completely unfair because we are investing billions in modern technology and working towards being carbon neutral. As an industry, we are driving down CO2 emissions faster than any other. It’s an easy finger to point, but to say that you should be ashamed to fly is very irresponsible .”

AirBaltic airliner in flight
airBaltic’s investment in the A220 is driving down CO2 emissions. Photo: airBaltic

airBaltic is already doing a great deal to minimize its impact on the environment. From reducing plastics to encouraging offsetting, the airline has even appointed a full time sustainability coordinator to oversee the delivery of its green initiatives.

One of the biggest contributors to airBaltic’s carbon reduction, however, is its investment in the highly efficient A220-300. The aircraft delivers a 20% fuel saving over the planes it replaces. The decision to invest in this type was made back in 2012, which Gauss rightly points out was long before ‘flight shame’ even became a thing.

What do you think? Is it right that people should feel ashamed to fly? Or is it indeed irresponsible?