A movement that seems to slow the growth of the aviation industry is that of ‘flight shame’. The movement started in Sweden, under the name Flygskam, where it had a serious effect on public flight rates. Flight shame results from the social awareness that aeroplanes emit large amounts of carbon dioxide. About two and a half per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from aviation, making it a significant cause of global warming. The flight shame movement creates a social pressure which, as the name suggests, causes people to be ashamed of travelling by plane. 


A major argument against flight shame is that the focus should be placed on other sectors, like heavy industry or clothing, that make up a much bigger share of the total GHG emissions. However, the extremely high carbon output intensity on a time basis of flying emphasizes where the ‘shame’ comes from. Even the shortest ranged flights emit more carbon per person than citizens of some poor countries do annually. Right now, only one out of every five people has ever travelled by plane. This also highlights the inequality of wealthy countries having much larger per capita emissions than poorer ones. 


If air travel becomes affordable globally or even economically convenient (as they now are in Europe), increased demand follows. Development in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), accounting for forty per cent of the world’s population, will cause tremendous growth of the aviation industry in the coming decades. These people will find themselves in the same situation as we did decades ago when air travel became commonplace in Europe. The only difference is the pressing global consensus on climate change. Should these people have flight shame, before even going on their first vacation abroad? Or should western countries put an immediate halt to their flying habits? Both questions are complex, as a yes or no does not suffice. The problem needs to be tackled both from the behavioural and technological side.


The required behavioural change is quite simple in its explanation. It comes down to looking critically at your travel plans, taking environmental costs into account. Everyone should start by asking themselves if the flight they want to take is really necessary. The majority of flights are short-range (up to 3 hours). For these flights, the answer should in most cases be no, as there are more sustainable alternatives that get you to your destination in a reasonable time. These ‘slow travel’ options, like trains and buses, have also seen increased use as a result of Flygskam in Sweden. For longer ranged flights, these options become less appealing. A critical look at the purpose of your flight is a must if you ask me. There is a difference between flying to an exotic resort every year and saving up for a longer trip, to see many places that you have long wanted to visit, or even making a meaningful contribution to the world along your journey.


At the other end of the spectrum is green innovation that works towards sustainable aviation, which also links to AeroDelft’s role in all of this. Through project Phoenix, we are making a small aircraft fly on liquid hydrogen. We want to inspire big players in the aviation industry, as they are required to scale the development up to the point where even long-ranged flights will become emissions-free. You could say that this technology gets rid of the need for flight shame completely, but it remains quite a complicated issue. Sustainable aviation does not end with the abolishment of airborne emissions. The manufacturing processes also need to become sustainable, as well as hydrogen production. Investments are required to match the rapid changes in the aviation industry. According to The Economist, investments in green venture capital are increasing, but not to a point where it should be now.


I find flight shame a somewhat awkward subject because it seems to go hand-in-hand with negativity towards aviation. However, and of course, we from AeroDelft did not decide to join this team with our best efforts because we hate flying. We love what aviation has brought to the world: the possibility to explore places that would otherwise be far out of reach. We are part of the movement that wants to restore the love for exploration and discovery of the unknown. We should not depend on technology to form the solution to all of our problems, nor should we completely reject aviation as a mode of transportation. For the time being, flight shame challenges us to take the planet into consideration and acts as motivational fuel for us to strive for better change.


This blog was written by Jesse van Leeuwen, Exposure Manager