The Scandinavian concept of “flygskam” or flight shaming is catching on across the globe, but for many of those passengers concerned about the environmental impact of air travel, there are sometimes very few viable alternatives. The airline industry isn’t taking any chances, however, and are unveiling new ways to make their customers feel better about flying.
Until recently, the idea of being embarrassed about frequent air travel has been a uniquely Scandinavian notion, but the idea that flying might not be the most environmentally responsible of activities is gaining traction outside of the European countries where the term “flygskam” (flight shame) was coined to give voice to the shame of traveling by air. For most air travelers, however, heading to the airport is far from an extravagant ordeal and is often an economic necessity. Nonetheless, airlines are determined not to allow the industry to get tagged with the reputation for being environmentally irresponsible.
News images of thousands of private planes crowded on the tarmac at the most recent climate change-themed economic summit in Davos, Switzerland provided some unfortunate optics. Although the aviation-related excesses of a few thousand billionaires and world leaders enraged environmental experts, those of us who tend to share a ride with a few hundred of our closest friends have so far been in the clear, but that is beginning to change.
In Sweden, flygskam is slowly becoming more than just a social faux pas. Lawmakers have even introduced a hefty carbon tax on air travel with the intention of lessening the environmental impact of rampant air travel. “The objective of the tax is to minimize the carbon footprint of flights following a sharp increase in air travel,” Climate Minister spokesperson Isabella Lovin wrote in a statement unveiling the flygskam-inspired tax on flights.
As more and more passengers begin to reassess the environmental toll of frequent air travel, the airline industry is taking action to keep public opinion around the globe from resembling the shift in public perception (and regulatory actions) on display in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries. “Unchallenged, this sentiment will grow and spread,” International Air Travel Association (IATA) Director Alexandre de Juniac announced at the group’s annual general meeting in comments reported by the Chicago Tribune.
United Airlines, the second largest carrier on the planet, is doing its level best to get ahead of the issue. On June 5th, in celebration of World Environment Day, United Airlines operated a first-of-its-kind “Flight for the Planet.” The environmentally friendly journey from Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) highlighted a number of the airline’s sustainability initiatives, including the use of aviation-grade biofuel, producing near zero cabin waste and taking advantage of already established and popular carbon offset programs.
“The historic Flight for the Planet showcases United’s philosophy of working together to find new and innovative ways to lead us into a more sustainable future,” United Airlines President Scott Kirby said in a statement touting the experimental flight. “As an airline, we see our environment from a unique perspective every day and we know we must do our part to protect our planet and our skies.”
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