Air travel is bad for the planet—and travelers may finally be getting the message.
A new survey from Swiss bank UBS shows that flight shaming—the practice of pointing out that air travel is environmentally atrocious—is taking a toll, and travelers from wealthy countries are starting to think twice before jumping on a flight to Ibiza for the weekend. After surveying more than 6,000 people in the U.S., Germany, France, and the U.K., UBS found that 21% had reduced the number of flights they took over the past year out of concern for the environment.
While growth in the airline industry was proceeding at a steady clip of about 4.5% a year, UBS claims that the number of flights—and the number of airplanes needed—will be about half of that due in part to awareness of the climate crisis. Airbus and Boeing had both predicted that passenger numbers would roughly double by 2035, but they didn’t seem to take the planet into the equation. Based on current trends, UBS estimates EU flight numbers will increase by just 1.5%–half the number expected by Airbus.
Interestingly, while flight shaming started out as a Swedish phenomenon called “flygskam,” its impact is being felt more strongly in the U.S. than in Europe. According to UBS, while 16% of British respondents said they were cutting back on flying, a surprising 24% of U.S. travelers have started to change their flying habits over environmental concerns, per the BBC. That is impacting flight growth in the U.S., where UBS thinks growth in flights could fall from the expected 2.1% to just 1.3%. CNBC reports that both Boeing and Airbus are expected to see less demand for their planes as travelers demand greener options.
The change in mindset is due to increasing awareness of the issue thanks to attention-grabbing protests, like when activist group Extinction Rebellion shut down Heathrow Airport and climate warrior Greta Thunberg sailed across the Atlantic in a zero-emissions yacht to speak at the UN’s climate summit.
Of course, airlines don’t have to pretend that the climate crisis won’t affect them. Lufthansa and Edelweiss already let you buy carbon offsets, United Airlines is testing a biofuel, JetBlue is investing in hybrid planes and ecofuels, KLM is launching a train service, and SAS lets customers fly with biofuel, a climate-friendly alternative.
Since the UBS report also showed that around three-quarters of respondents said they would be happy to fly in an electric or hybrid plane, perhaps Boeing and Airbus should start coming up with greener options for customers who want to travel.