Blog: We should all feel ‘flying shame’ when we step onto a plane

10 Jul 2019

Going on holiday is meant to be the one time of year when you forget your worries and let your hair down – but not anymore, because flygskam is here.

The word, which translates as flying shame, refers to a growing movement in Sweden which highlights the shame and embarrassment of flying and how this affects the environment.

Those who choose alternative, greener forms of travel, also earn themselves the right to boast about it. The Swedes have a catchy phrase for this too: tagskryt (train-bragging).

If you want to be more environmentally conscious, not taking a flight is a big hitter.

Each plane journey includes considerable carbon dioxide emissions and planes also produce other greenhouse gases such as water vapour and nitrogen oxide. Compared to taking the train, emissions from a flight are somewhere around seven to 11 times higher.

What’s more, a return flight from London to New York has the same environmental impact as heating your home for a year or eating meat for two years.

After watching Race Across the World on BBC Two – a show about contestants getting themselves from London to Singapore without taking a single flight – I felt inspired to see how long I can go without flying.

So far, I’ve managed a year. Within that time, I’ve turned down various trips and friends’ weddings, and instead, I’ve explored Paris, the Alps and Brussels, all by Eurostar.

What flygskam has made apparent is that we don’t need to fly as much as we do, and hopefully the movement will incentivise airlines to get innovative.

However, it can’t be the only solution.

Flight numbers in the UK are growing and aviation is responsible for over seven per cent of current UK CO2 emissions. We need to reverse this trend, as limiting the increase in the pre-industrial global average surface temperature to 1.5C requires a 45 per cent reduction in global emissions by 2030.

Unfortunately, technology isn’t moving at a quick enough pace to cope with demand, which is expected to double worldwide in the next 20 years. But, there are ways to move forward.

Firstly, we need to tax jet fuel properly. The reason airlines such as Ryanair get away with cheap ticket prices is largely because they refuse to pay tax.

Furthermore, we need to reduce the demand for air travel and encourage people to fly less.

In the UK, 70 per cent of flights are taken by only 15 per cent of people, and a frequent flyer levy has been touted as a sensible idea to make those who fly the most pay for their emissions.

Carbon offsetting is another option that the Treasury is currently looking into and would mean travellers pay towards environmental projects when booking a flight. Although a nice idea in premise, I’m unsure how you can tell if someone has planted a tree for you in Mozambique without taking a flight there to check.

Another, perhaps better, option is for airlines to give customers a chance to donate to victims of climate change as a way of acknowledging their responsibility. This would get people thinking about the real consequences of their travel choices.

We could also go the whole hog and treat flying like smoking and put warning signs of travel consequences on the side of planes, like we do on cigarette packets.