Flight shame, or flygskam as it was originally called, is a very European thing. Conceived in Scandinavia, the movement has spread, with individuals, businesses and governments all taking steps to avoid all but the most essential air travel.
Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll find that the aviation industry is wholly undeserving of this negative image. Airlines have reduced CO2 per passenger by 50% in the last three decades, with many well on their way to securing a carbon neutral future. Nevertheless, flight shame exists and is affecting how people think and choose to travel in every corner of Europe.
But what about across the pond? The situation in the US is quite different, with much greater distances often involved and not always a realistic option other than to fly. Even so, we’ve seen JetBlue, for one, commit to a carbon-neutral future. Has flight shame taken a trip to the US?
Is flight shame a thing in the USA?
I asked this precise question of several large US-based airlines; Southwest, JetBlue, United, Delta and American. While none of the answers given unequivocally confirmed the presence of such a state of mind in the US, several alluded to pushing forward green initiatives in response to customer demand, among other factors. Here’s what they told me:
“At Southwest Airlines, we are constantly evaluating ways we can improve the environmental stewardship across our airline. To become a leading global citizen, we are always striving to reduce our environmental impact, and we have aggressive efforts in place to reduce resource consumption and emissions, manage waste, operate efficient aircraft and routes, and repurpose materials to minimize our carbon footprint.”
It should be noted that Southwest also sent across a list of key statistics regarding what they are doing to be more environmentally friendly. These include fleet renewal, a $600m fuel efficiency program and retrofitting of split scimitar wingtips on all its 737s. The airline says it has improved jet fuel efficiency by 32.8% since 2005.
“We recognize that air travel has an impact on the environment, and we’re committed to proactively minimizing those impacts in a number of ways. Our sustainability efforts are embedded in our operation, from our unmatched fleet renewal to our wide-ranging efforts to improve fuel efficiency.”
While JetBlue didn’t offer up a statement in regard to flight shame, it did share some of the many things the airline is doing to drive down its carbon footprint. These range from carbon offsetting flights to using electric ground vehicles and choosing renewable jet fuel.
We also got in touch with A4A, a group representing many of the airlines across North America. They told us,
“The fact is that the U.S. airline industry is a green economic engine. We drive more than 10 million U.S. jobs and $1.5 trillion in annual U.S. economic activity while contributing just 2 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. When you look at the bigger picture, the U.S. carriers transported 42 percent more passengers and cargo in 2018 than in 2000, and we did it with just a 3 percent increase in total emissions.
“And we’re not stopping there: The world’s airlines, including U.S. carriers, have committed to an international agreement called the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which calls for carbon-neutral growth in international commercial aviation beginning in 2021. We’ve also set a goal of cutting our net carbon emissions in half in 2050 relative to 2005 levels.
“The truth is that the airline industry is helping to lead the fight against climate change with a myriad of measures including developing sustainable alternative jet fuels and investing in more fuel-efficient aircraft. In fact, U.S. airlines increased our overall fuel efficiency by 130 percent between 1978 and 2018, saving nearly 5 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions. That’s hardly an environmental record for our airlines or our passengers to be ashamed of. It’s a record of sustainability to be proud of.”
Although it’s great to hear the efforts being made by airlines to drive down carbon footprints, none really answered the fundamental question – is flight shame a thing in the US? On some level, I’m not sure the responding airlines had really heard of it or understood what it was. So, perhaps it’s not there yet.
One CEO thinks it’s only a matter of time.
“A clear and present danger”
Skift reports this week that CEO of JetBlue, Robin Hayes, believes the flight shame movement is only a step away from invading the US. During the full year earnings call recently, Hayes commented,
“This issue presents a clear and present danger if we don’t get on top of it. We’ve seen that in other geographies, and we should not assume those sentiments won’t come to the U.S…so it’s very important for airlines get on the front foot of this.”
European airlines and airports are already seeing the impact of the growing impetus of flight shame. If Hayes is right, airlines will need to act rapidly and to follow in JetBlue’s footsteps with visible sustainability initiatives. Those that don’t face the potential impacts of a boycott by climate concerned fliers.
Do you live in the US? Have you heard of flight shame? Let us know in the comments.