It’s a new decade, and flight shame isn’t going anywhere.
The Scandinavian-born movement known as flygskam (or #avihonte in France) has graduated from shifting individual sensibilities to upending the business plans of corporations and governments. In the last year, Sweden handled 9% fewer passengers on domestic flights, Austria ordered 13 new sleeper trains, France levied an “eco-tax” on all flights that take off from the country, and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines encouraged travelers to fly less.
According to the CEO of JetBlue, Robin Hayes, similar institutional changes will soon arrive in the United States. The airline announced a few weeks ago that it plans to go fully carbon neutral (a first for any American airline) by next July; they’ll try to meet the goal by offsetting emissions with investments in forest conversation and landfill gas capture. JetBlue has also spent money lately on more sustainable aviation fuel (from Finland-based Neste) and better jets like the Airbus A321 Neos and Airbus A220s.
During an earnings call last week, Hayes explained the moves pretty succinctly: “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 those sentiments won’t come to the U.S.”
He’s right. While America is definitely lagging behind on the movement at the moment — the biggest reason its lack of high speed rail, which we investigated in a report late last year — the nation’s travel-obsessed millennial and Gen Z cohorts are sustainably minded and concerned about their carbon footprints. Young Americans are already buying carbon offsets when they fly (they’re cheaper than you think), and businesses from beach apparel companies (Outerknown) to titanic financial institutions (Blackrock) are intent on addressing the climate crisis in the years going forward.
The airline industry will need to follow suit, especially as it accounts for over 2% of carbon dioxide emissions each year. The JetBlue initiative lends an element of self-fulfilling prophecy to Hayes’ words, then. He’s predicting other airlines will have to reach carbon neutrality, as his intends to. They have no choice, and that’s a good thing for all of us, fliers and anti-fliers alike.
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