What Can Airlines Do About “Flight Shaming”?

Flight shaming is a form of climate activism in which people are encouraged to avoid air transportation because of the large environmental footprint of aviation compared to other means of transportation. While this is by no means a new phenomenon, it has recently gained a lot of media coverage thanks in part to Greta Thunberg’s School Strike for Climate Movement. When Greta decided to tour the world to spread her message about climate change, she refused to fly across the Atlantic, opting to sail instead to reduce the CO2 emissions produced during her trip. This young activist’s decision reflects the changing global attitudes about transportation and climate change. People are no longer just concerned with getting to their destination as quickly and cheaply as possible, they are now also considering the environmental impact of such a decision.

The International Panel on Climate Change stated that we have 12 years to reduce carbon emissions or face imminent and irreversible damage to the environment and human life. The record-breaking wildfires, increased intensity and frequency of hurricanes, loss of biodiversity, and sea-level rise are examples of the effects of climate change that are already occurring and should be a stark warning to all high-polluting industries. Pollution comes at a price, and because carbon-taxes have failed to gain widespread traction, it is still ordinary people, in particular poor and minority communities that pay the price for this environmental negligence. 

Demands are growing across the world for high-polluting companies and industries to be held accountable for their contribution to the climate crisis. While a carbon tax or government emissions reduction incentives would be the most efficient way to reduce pollution on a wide scale, for now it is up to individual companies to commit to emissions reduction on an ethical basis. The US government has yet to implement any meaningful climate change policy, so it is no surprise that many people feel a sense of hopelessness and despondency towards the existential crisis that is climate change. Flight shaming is a way that average citizens can voice this discontent, and while it poses a significant challenge to the aviation industry, it is also a wakeup call for them to change their business practices before it’s too late. So, what can airlines do about flight shaming? The answer is quite simply, reduce emissions.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) suggests a three-pronged approach to sustainable aviation. Aviaton companies must invest in green technology, sustainable alternative fuels, and take advantage of market-based or government incentives if they want to meaningfully reduce emissions. The KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is one aviation company leading the way in green aircraft technology. 

KLM is developing a new type of airplane called the Flying-V. Due to its unique and aerodynamic V-shape, it is expected to reduce fuel consumption by 20% compared to a regular aircraft. While maybe one day these types of aircrafts will be widely available, we are still likely decades away from this. For smaller aviation companies that don’t have the means to invest in this expensive green technology, biofuels will play the most important role in their emissions reduction strategies. Alternative fuel sources can prove aviation companies the most straightforward means of emissions reduction as they can simply drop biofuel into existing combustion jet engines without having to alter the aircraft. Biofuels are not a perfect solution either, but they will play a vital role in achieving the industry’s pledge to reduce emissions. Lastly, aviation companies must take advantage of opportunities like market-based incentives for carbon offsetting. While such incentives are still few and mostly voluntary, they will likely become more common place as the urgency to act to mitigate climate change grows. 

While flight shaming may have a small impact on the industry’s revenue, the cost of inaction on reducing emissions will be far greater in long run. By prioritizing social and environmental responsibility, airlines can not only combat climate change, but they can reduce the effect of flight-shaming on their operations. 


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Hailey LaJoie

Special Projects Manager 


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