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‘Flight Shaming’ Can Seriously Hurt Industry Profits

— February 21, 2020

Flight shaming means less flights and less profits for the airline industry.

Greta Thunberg, the Swedish airline teenager focusing concerns over climate change, coined a popular new term – “flygskam,” or flight shaming.  The term has caused a slight decrease in the number of commercial flights in the U.S., experts say.  It certainly has caused European passengers to think twice about buying tickets.

Robin Hayes, chief executive of New York-based JetBlue Airways, told industry analysts during a conference call, “It’s only a matter of time before Americans follow the lead of their Swedish counterparts to find more environmentally friendly alternatives to commercial air travel.”  He added, “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 that those sentiments won’t come to the U.S.”

“Today’s environmentally focused 22-year-old is tomorrow’s 35-year-old frequent business traveler,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with the Atmosphere Research Group. “The industry wants to make sure everyone, regardless of age, knows what they are doing.”

Emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from all commercial flights, including cargo and passenger planes, represented 2.4% of all global CO2 emissions in 2018, which is a 32% increase over five years, according to a study by the International Council on Clean Transportation.  “If global passenger demand continues to grow at the same pace, CO2 emissions from air travel will triple by 2050,” according to an estimate by the International Civil Aviation Organization.

'Flight Shaming' Can Seriously Hurt Industry Profits
Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Last year marked the first time air traffic grew less than 5% since the worldwide financial crisis, due mainly to a decrease in the number of flights in Germany and Sweden.  Citigroup believes flight shaming is a “real threat to the airline industry” which could lead to a decrease in industry profits by 44% by 2025.

Mark Manduca, a Citi managing director, forecasts that flight shaming would put “downward pressure to demand growth forecasts.” But he said that “investors believe that flight shaming will largely be a European phenomenon, with Germany, France and Sweden likely to see the largest impact.”

Brandon M. Graver, an aviation researcher for the International Council on Clean Transportation, said, “It is too early to tell if environmental concerns will begin to hurt the airline industry in the U.S…There are plenty of news stories of individuals who have decided to eliminate flying, but they are the exception.”

However, Maro Kakoussian, who works for the nonprofit Physicians for Social Responsibility in Los Angeles, said she has gone “four years without flying because of her concern for the harm airplane emissions have on the planet.”  Kakoussian explained, “I think once people are educated enough and realize how much of an impact one flight can have on carbon emissions, they will take fewer flights.”

In January, JetBlue announced plans to become carbon neutral on all domestic flights beginning July 2020.  The airline said it “will offset its fleet’s CO2 emissions by partnering with several carbon reduction organizations, including,” JetBlue spokeswoman Tamara Young explained, “This is the cost of doing business.”

Late last year, Delta Air Lines also announced the company’s plans to secure 10 million gallons per year of advanced renewable biofuels from Colorado-based Gevo.

American Airlines spokesperson Curtis Blessing said, “We recognize that air travel has impacts on the environment, and we’re committed to proactively minimizing those impacts in a number of ways.”  And, United spokesperson Andrea Hiller announced, “United is proud to be a leader among global carriers in environmental sustainability.”


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