In Sweden, flying has become a social faux pas. That’s causing great concern for Swedish Airports and Scandinavian Airlines.
Swedavia AB, which operates 10 airports in Sweden, noted two startling stats:
- In 2018, Sweden had its weakest overall growth in the number of passengers in a decade
- Year-on-year passenger numbers have dropped for seven consecutive months
Meanwhile, it has been a record year for SJ, Sweden’s national rail service. The state-operated rail company attributes “the big interest in climate-smart travel” to its growth.
In Sweden, this phenomenon is known as “Flying Shame.” As its name implies, a growing number of Swedes now feel guilty about the environmental impact their flying has on the environment. Based on the numbers above, especially compared to the growth experienced in neighboring nations, this appears to be a real issue. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund reports that 23% of Swedes have abstained from traveling via air over the last year to reduce their climate impact. New words in the Swedish vocabulary include “flygskam” (flying shame), “tagskryt” (train bragging), and “smygflyga” (flying in secret).
To combat its perception as a polluter, SAS has taken several steps, including:
- Seeking to use more biofuel
- Replacing older, less-fuel-efficient aircraft (MD80s were retired)
- Switching heavier seating for lighter, slimline seating
- Asking customers to pre-book food (to avoid waste and extra weight onboard)
- Investing in energy projects that counteract the CO2 emissions generated by its Eurobonus loyalty program members
SAS Boss: Flying Will Evolve, Not Disappear
Speaking to Bloomberg, SAS Chief Executive Officer Rickard Gustafson noted the challenge:
Airlines, like other infrastructure, are needed in order for us to have the societies we want, with growth, transparency, openness, clarity and tolerance. It’s important that people can continue to meet and that the world can continue to travel. But we can’t continue to just travel without adjusting to a sustainable way.
That change will not occur overnight. Today, for example, there is simply enough biofuel available to meet the needs of SAS. But SAS is working with Swedish biofuel maker Preem to ramp up production. It hopes to cut carbon emissions by 25% (from 2005 levels) by 2030.
The journey toward a fossil-free footprint will be long, but I’m a technology optimist. One day a scientist will figure out how to replace the current jet engine, and I think those planes will become available to all of us in, say, 20 years’ time.
SAS cannot risk watching to see whether “flying shame” will be a short-lived fad or a long-term lifestyle change. The question is whether its changes will be enough to convince skeptics that it is doing the best it can to offset its carbon footprint.