KLM Urges Passengers To Fly Less In New Advert

KLM have launched a new advertising campaign, which actually encourages passengers to fly less. The campaign, branded as ‘Fly Responsibly’, was launched on the 29th June with an open  letter from the CEO published in all major international papers. Now, it’s been underpinned with a video advert, urging passengers to consider how they fly.

KLM Fly responsibly
KLM want their passengers to fly less. Photo: KLM

2019 is turning out to be an amazing year for Aviation, with some big birthdays to celebrate. British Airways are celebrating their 100th year, possibly with domestic 747 flights, or not. Embraer turned 50, the first transatlantic flight by Alcock and Brown was 100 years ago and Airbus celebrated their 50th birthday, but lamented the loss of one of their founders. Oh, and of course Simple Flying turned one!

But there’s another airline with a big birthday to celebrate, and that’s Royal Dutch Airline, KLM. On the 7th October, the airline reaches its centenary, claiming to be the oldest continually operational airline in the world. But how will they celebrate this amazing milestone?

Not with fanfare and pomp, it seems, but by asking their passengers to… fly less.

Fly responsibly

As the official countdown of the last 100 days to the KLM 100 year anniversary began (although sadly without their guest of honor), KLM have launched a new ad campaign urging people to ‘Fly Responsibly’.

KLM fly responsibly campaign
The Fly Responsibly campaign marks 100 days to their 100th birthday. Photo: KLM

In the ad, they claim that “a hundred years of aviation comes with great responsibility”. It then goes on to ask a variety of questions targeted at  more responsible travel. These include question the need to meet face to face, whether the train would be an alternative, or if passengers could contribute by offsetting the carbon emissions of the flight.

It concludes by inviting passengers and the aviation industry to ‘join forces’ and to come together in making the world aware of its ‘shared responsibility’. You can check it out for yourself below:

The video features a cameo appearance from the conceptual airliner the Flying-V, a project KLM are working on alongside Delft University of Technology. It wraps up with a tongue in cheek message of, “no actual flights were taken in the making of this film”.

Flying V image III
The conceptual aircraft, the Flying-V. Image: KLM

An open letter from Pieter Elbers

Alongside this campaign, an open letter was published in all leading international newspapers on June 29th from KLM CEO Pieter Elbers. In this, he called upon the aviation industry and stakeholders to join forces in the development of sustainable solutions for the future of flight. In the letter, Elbers says,

“Sustainable development in aviation is not a ‘one-airline-topic’ and actual progress will only be made when we work together as an industry. That’s why with the launch of the ‘Fly Responsibly’ initiative, we invite others to use our CO2Zero-programme for carbon compensation free of charge and free of brand, and partner in our corporate BIO-fuel programme.”

KLM Open Letter
The open letter was published all over the world. Photo: KLM

The Air-France KLM Group have already been working hard to improve their green credentials. They are ranked in the top three in the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, according to the letter. In a bid to maintain this position, KLM are investing in fleet renewal, including taking delivery of new 787-10s and planning the retirement of their 747s.

As well as this, they are working on the  development of carbon offsetting schemes and, most recently, have committed to a ten year agreement for the development of sustainable aviation fuel.

The Fly Responsibly campaign has been launched alongside a website of resources for passengers and professionals to learn more about sustainability in aviation.

But do they mean it?

KLM, like many airlines, are facing a rising tide of flight shame, with passengers more aware than ever of their impact on the environment. There are also strong murmurings about new European aviation taxes, not to mention France floating the idea of banning domestic flights where the train is an effective option.

These sorts of enforcement would be very bad news for the Dutch airline, as they are heavily reliant on connecting their network through Schiphol. Although they are certainly keen to present an image of environmental conscience, you’ve got to ask how much of this is nothing more than greenwash.

KLM Fly Responsibly
KLM want us all to work together to make aviation more sustainable. Photo: KLM

Sure, video conferencing is a thing, and is driving down unnecessary journeys. However, taking the train often just isn’t a realistic alternative to long haul flights. Cutting short haul routes and raising ticket prices would be a more effective effort to reduce emissions, but at the end of the day, KLM need to remain in business.

Nevertheless, it’s refreshing to see an airline with a new message, and at least acknowledging the impact aviation has, and will continue to have, on the environment. “Don’t fly with us unless you have to” is a bit of an unusual marketing strategy, but could be a trend we see more carriers jumping on in the future.

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9 comments
  1. Ah yes, the monster of eco-fanaticism and it’s crusade against aviation…
    So as not to be overly negative: I VERY much agree that a large percentage of business trips are totally unnecessary, and should be replaced by video conferencing / blogs, etc. I know several multinationals that like to make a habit of flying huge numbers of staff (literally of the order of a thousand) to a given location each year, for a “kickoff” get-together; the matters discussed at the meeting are total hot air, that could just as easily be showcased in an e-mail or on a company webpage. In addition, many/most participants are too jetlagged to function optimally. Time to wake up and cut the crap!
    Whether this move by KLM is voluntary or not is open to debate; my impression is that they have to do it, to try and diffuse the bomb of eco-fanaticism before it grows too big.
    For the record: I’m an environmentalist (!), but I don’t believe in picking on a particular industry simply because it’s a current fad to do so. If the Dutch government (and others) reduced the maximum speed limit on motorways from 130 km/h to 100 km/h, it would have a vastly greater effect on CO2 emission than the symbolic crusade against the aviation industry. The aviation industry is one of the cleanest of all industries, and it’s not fair to nail it to a showcase cross.

    1. I feel very similarly Nigel. Aviation is responsible for around 2-3% of CO2 emissions globally. In contrast, road transport is around 10 – 11% and deforestation around 11 – 12%. It does seem unfair that aviation gets such negative press when there are other things that are so much worse.

  2. Here’s an interesting link for fuel consumption per passenger on transatlantic flights, from 2014 (see below).
    Note that the average is 32 km/liter…MUCH better than an average car.
    Airlines with modern planes (such as Norwegian) score even better…up to 40 km/liter. On the other hand, airlines with old wrecks (such as BA) score 27 km/liter. As fleets get more modern, these consumption figures will improve.
    Bear in mind that these planes are also carrying cargo! Load your car trunk with cargo and see what happens to your fuel consumption.
    As regards electric trains:
    – Even a country such as Germany — which is currently attempting to greatly increase production of green electricity — only generates 40% of its electricity from renewable sources…the remaining 60% produces a carbon footprint. So your electric train is also indirectly producing CO2.
    – Trains aren’t always full. As a matter of fact, outside of rush hour, they tend to be pretty damn empty. But they still weigh hundreds of tons, and those tons still have to be moved…which is a very inefficient process. In contrast, airlines don’t tolerate empty flights: if the plane isn’t filling well, the route gets discontinued before long.
    – Outside of Europe, there are relatively few electrified railway lines; most use diesel fuel. –> same problem with CO2 emission.

    https://theicct.org/publications/transatlantic-airline-fuel-efficiency-ranking-2014

  3. @ Nigel
    Nice comment !

    I completely agree with your vision on those transcontinental meetings and by saying so perhaps we should quickly get more used connecting each other digitally. It’ll not only save tons of burned fuel, but hotel costs and lots of time as well. But such trips also have a rewarding aspect, although it’s questionable if everyone is that lucky with a next trip to Being, Melbourne, or Seattle?
    So cutting this kind flying could help.

    The other and not unimportant part of aviation, are leisure flights. Partly to flee for the uncertainty of weather during planned holydays in our part of the world, or as adventure trips.
    Introduction of kerosene and other taxes will only for a limited period reduce passenger amounts. But it’ll harm at first those who can hardly afford such kind of holyday trips, so it seems a very a-social measurement.

    So KLM’s “Fly responsibly” isn’t that stupid, if it stimulates everyone to consider his or her necessity for flying.
    And as KLM urges it should be a by airlines around the globe supported slogan. Although at first sight it doesn’t look so, on the long term it’ll secure the well being of aviation business.

    A comparable necessity consideration is due for car driving, perhaps except EV’s, the latter in perspective of ongoing rapid growth of renewables in our electricity mix.

    1. With regard to leisure trips, here’s an example:
      – Many Dutch people like to vacation in Southern France…and they drive there with a caravan behind the car. With the extra weight, they’ll be lucky to get a fuel economy of 6 km per liter…and that’s a distance of 1500km each way. That fuel efficiency is 5 times less than the average aviation fuel economy in the table above so, in principle, I could fly 7500 km and cause the same CO2 emissions. So, if someone decides to take a 3 hour flight to Spain, he’s actually being more environmentally friendly than the caravan-pullers going to France.
      – Similar considerations apply to a German driving in his SUV from Hamburg to Munich. He’ll be lucky to get a fuel economy of 4 km/liter, due to weight, a 4 liter engine, and high speed on German Autobahns.

      I’m sure people don’t understand why aviation causes such relatively low emissions. One answer lies in the fact that a plane uses a gas turbine engine, which has a Carnot limit efficiency of about 50%. Contrast this to a piston engine (in a car), which has a Carnot limit efficiency of about 25%. So, a well-designed turbine will always win compared to a piston engine. Add to that the fact that planes don’t suffer from roll friction (tyres on a road surface), and have less intrinsic air resistance (the air is much thinner at higher altitudes).

      So, in a way, aviation is actually cleaner than road transport!

  4. They’re just hoping they can avoid having the short routes banned. The Brussels Amsterdam route is commonly referenced. The argument is that CBD to CBD the train is quicker. This is true, and KLM couldn’t care less about this market. They want that flight as a feeder for transfers through Amsterdam. If it’s eliminated, those same people won’t be flying KLM and instead will use Lufthansa or British Airways and connect at their hubs.

  5. @ Nigel

    This time do not completely agree with your fuel burn assumptions.

    As a reference:
    “The most fuel-efficient airline was Norwegian Air Shuttle with 44 pax-km/L (2.27 L/100 km [104 mpg US] per passenger), thanks to its fuel-efficient Boeing 787-8, a high 85% passenger load factor and a high density of 1.36 seat/m2 due to a low 9% premium seating.”
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_economy_in_aircraft

    Your estimation is that a car driving at high speed or towing a caravan burns 16 litres per 100 kilometres travelled distance. That seems quite a lot for general car driving. All of us aren’t driving Porsche Cayennes, Range Rovers and so on. And certainly not the majority of them flying E-Class.

    My Volvo S80 burns on the German Autobahn at an in average 160 km speed, 8 litres per 100 kilometres.
    If only two people are in, it’s worse than a seat in a plane. But the burned fuel figure per passenger almost equals with three and it definitive does if four are in my car, even counting the due to extra weight slightly risen fuel burn figure.
    Not talking about the great benefit of availability of my own means of transport at my destiny location.

    Nevertheless, car driving should be considered always responsively as well!

    1. Yes, your points are very valid, and my points are very general: I’m just trying to illustrate a general point here.
      Your S80 is relatively fuel efficient; now try putting a caravan behind it and see what happens. Or, switch to an SUV (weighs twice as much) and see what happens. I also have a very fuel-efficient car, but not everyone is the same in that regard.
      My general point is that people — in general — tend to think that flying is horrendously polluting compared to other modes of transport; the truth is that it’s actually relatively clean.
      Incidentally: modern ships get the best fuel economy of all! But they burn a very heavy and dirty type of fuel oil, which produces relatively large amounts of SOx, NOx and soot.

  6. @ Nigel

    I’m afraid you are a bit too optimistic.
    My comparison deals with (ref. Wikipedia) the most per seat fuel efficient operated plane.
    The majority of todays aircraft in the air are at least 20, perhaps 30% less efficient.
    Besides that planes cause another portion of nuisance:
    sound pressure in a at least 60 kilometres circles around airports.
    Not saying Autobahns shouldn’t have a noise impact on their more restricted neighbourhood.

    So let’s wrap it up:
    Widening KLM’s slogan:
    Be responsive in all your varieties of fuel driven mobility.

    I complete agree with you about the comparison wise energy efficiency of (sea)shipping.

    That’s especially benefitted by diesel electric powering from a cascade of generators, where the latter are switched on and off along with the actual propulsion power needed.

    The utilised dirty oil is primarily a financial matter.
    Of course they can burn, and even do so in harbour environments, less polluting fuels, but we as consumers long for low freight fares.
    A matter that needs worldwide regulation. A not easy to be solved political issue.

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