Why Flight Shame Is Like Dieting

Listening to his interview at the IATA Wings of Change event in Berlin last year, Carsten Spohr, CEO of Lufthansa, raised a very interesting point. He drew attention to the parallels between flight shame and dieting, a point I’d like to investigate further here.

Lufthansa A340 rainbow
Lufthansa’s CEO drew parallels between flight shame and dieting. Photo: Getty

Helping passengers make informed choices

When speaking about the flight shame movement at the IATA event, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr drew a parallel between people’s wish to reduce their impact on the environment and dieting. He said,

“If someone wants to lose weight, you don’t tell them just to stop eating.”

He went on to explain how the food industry has responded to the trend of more health conscious eating by improving labelling of products to help us choose wisely. Both in Europe and in the US, food for sale in shops will carry a standardized label that advises on the calorific content of the product, as well as how much saturated fat, sugar and carbs are loaded in.

Why Flight Shame Is Like Dieting
In the UK, a ‘traffic light’ system is used to indicate how good or bad a product is. Photo: Zeyus Media via Flickr

Mr. Spohr’s point was that, for those who want to reduce their environmental impact, simply saying ‘stop flying’ is often not an option, just as ‘stop eating’ wouldn’t be a sensible message for dieters. However, if passengers were more aware of the environmental impact of a specific flight, they would be better equipped to make an informed choice about the flight they took.

It’s a great point and one that bears thinking about.

Could eco-labeling of flights take off?

Back in 2007, UK regional airline Flybe became the first airline to eco-label its flights. Now, if you live in Europe and have bought or rented a property, or even an electrical appliance, in the last few years, you’ll recognize the format of this label.

Flybe eco label
Flybe’s eco-label. Image: Flybe

Flybe aimed to replicate the labels we see on electrical goods and to houses on their Energy Performance Certificates in order to allow easy comparison of flights. Their label gave CO2 emissions for different trip lengths, for the aircraft overall and for the amount of noise generated by the plane.

Sadly, the initiative didn’t last very long for Flybe. For a few years it displayed the eco-labels prominently on the side of its aircraft as well as in the seatback pocket, but on my own recent Flybe trips, I’ve not seen anything like this displayed. There’s no longer any reference to the eco-label on its website either.

Flybe no longer labels its aircraft. Photo: Getty

Perhaps other airlines toyed with the idea of an eco-label or energy performance label for their aircraft, or perhaps Flybe was the only one. Either way, the idea has never hit the mainstream but, in my opinion, it remains an interesting option for airlines looking to combat flight shame.

Think about it; if you want to get from A to B, often there are several airlines offering a service for within a few pounds of each other. Ignoring the frequent flier benefits, we usually choose a service based on convenient times or simply on price alone. If those flights also included an eco-label, it would give us the opportunity to pick an airline that is investing in reducing its CO2 emissions.

Why they won’t

The long and short of it is no airline wants a reason for a flier to choose a competitor, so apart from those airlines with very young fleets, none is going to want to advertise their environmental impact. A Wizz Air flight on a shiny new A321neo is always going to beat a British Airways flight on an aging A320-200, but they don’t want you to know that.

Still, I believe that more information about the impact of flights is key to tackling flight shame. Just like the dieter choosing between the cream cake and the apple, we need to know which one is the apple in order to make a good choice.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments.