#FLIGHTSHAME – Is the plane really the big bad wolf?

L'avion est il vraiment le grand méchant loup

I had this idea for an article as soon as Ethik Hotels was launched, so I have been looking at a lot of articles to document it. At the end of November, I have to admit that the draft article did not move one iota because I absolutely can’t find the angle of approach. In discussion with Coletta Trivero, whom I had the chance to meet virtually when she was in charge of communication for Fleurs de Lune, she tells me that she is interested in writing such an article and that if I agree she is willing to start writing. How can you say no to this kind of proposal when you haven’t put a single word on paper about it for 8 months when you have a lot of ideas in your head? I sincerely thank her for this work and for having managed to transcribe this factually and without judgement.

I feel like travelling! I need to travel!

It is with this injunction to travel that I decide to begin my article in this period of international pandemic. If, like me, the confinement has been a painful ordeal of immobility, the desire to travel has certainly tugged at you.

So I invite you to take a moment to daydream while reading me, here and now:
Imagine yourself on board a plane. You are sipping coffee, plugging in your headphones and relaxing. Through the window, you watch with relief as your daily routine gradually fades away… until it becomes invisible. You are comfortably seated and you feel the excitement of the adventure rising inside you. The excitement of discovering a distant destination, where other landscapes, other sounds and other flavours populate a new reality!

What sweet madness to think of that today.

Madness, because the pandemic is not behind us and my next trip to South America will still have to wait.

Madness, because the time for carelessness is over; Greta Thunberg is living proof of this. Travelling also has a negative impact on the environment. Like all generations Y and Z, I am sensitive to this subject. Like you, I was fascinated to see the beneficial effects of confinement on nature. Did you know that between March and June 2020, more than 80% of European air traffic was slowed down, representing a saving in CO2 equivalent emissions of 45 Mt? That alone!

As for ecological activism movements, such as AvionBashing, #Flygskam, #Flightshame, which were brought to light by the young Swedish activist in 2019, claim that NO, definitely NO, Plane and Ecological Responsibility cannot agree.

Except that I don’t want to give up my trip and the discovery of South America. I’ll take that plane! So do I have no choice but to travel with the weight of guilt?

“Guilt only attaches to those who remain ignorant when they have a chance to learn.”

Franck Herbert (1)

I therefore invite you, through this article, to give us the chance to learn how to make responsible use of the aircraft, without demonising it.

Shall we take 2 minutes to put things into perspective?

There is no denying that air transport pollutes. But if we want to put it into perspective, only 3.5% of transport emissions come from this sector.

Digital, on the other hand, is at 5% … for the moment… However, no one will cry cynicism if I recommend that you watch the documentary COWSPIRACY on Netflix, right?

As for road transport, it contributes to 95% of transport emissions. So if you want to have a real impact on the environment, it’s better to eat locally or use short-distance transport and leave your car in the garage.

Shopping addict

Another responsible action to take: stop buying disposable clothes! 60% of our clothes go into the trash anyway within the first year after purchase. Astonishing, isn’t it?

Fast fashion and manufacturing in general pollute even more than transport and contribute to the particularly inhumane exploitation of a large number of poor workers, far, far away from our eyes.

I let you read this edifying article found on Natura-Sciences.com: “Fast fashion ruins the planet (Computer graphics)“.

So why so much focus on aviation?

Because environmental activists are looking for a strong and visible symbol to convey their message.

Avihonte #Flightshame #Flygskam are movements that over-stigmatise the plane and perhaps in a somewhat fanatical way. But can they be blamed for effective communication?

On the one hand, this media stigmatisation makes it possible to reach public opinion and forces the airlines and our politicians to make more efforts in the ecological transition of the transport sector.

On the other hand, not flying is ultimately one of the few causes of climate change that a citizen can control.

Did you know that one third of CO2 emissions come from the production of gas, steam and electricity? This means that from your home, without meaning to, just by heating, lighting, taking a shower or running the bottle warmer, you are polluting in a major way!

In reality, an ordinary citizen has no means of acting significantly on this pollution.

So we can indeed stop flying, but I’ll tell you right now: it will be a drop of good conscience in an ocean of ecological problems.

Here I propose a less radical solution, which has already proved its worth in Sweden: a thoughtful use of transport …

We adopt the habits of responsible travellers

Domestic flights, you’ll be banned!

In the third quarter of 2019, Sweden saw an 8.9% drop in domestic flights (this is due to the successful communication of the aforementioned environmental activists, by the way); over the same period, the national rail company Statens Järnvägar recorded +15% more passengers.

Why is it a good idea to choose the train over the plane for domestic journeys?

Let’s illustrate this with an example of a journey: Paris – Toulouse. Here is how much you would spend in CO2 equivalent depending on the means of transport you choose:

  • By car: 134.6 Kg of CO2 if you are alone
  • By plane: 80.4 Kg of CO2
  • By train: 2.6 Kg of CO2 only.

Measuring your CO2 equivalent expenditure is not easy and you will never get the same figures twice. Indeed, in order for your measurements to be accurate, you need to take into account several data such as the occupancy rate, the type of vehicle considered (model, new or existing vehicle), etc. By clicking this link, you will find more details on the calculation methods and websites where you can find information.

However, with regard to this occupancy rate, there are nevertheless some points to be clarified in relation to the statistics used for the car and the plane which really prevent realistic comparisons from being made (more details in this article) :

  • For the car. The reports of the European Environment Agency estimate, for an average car, emissions of 55 g of CO2/passenger/km and 4 passengers. The reality is quite different. The occupancy rate of a car is 1.1 for short journeys and 2.2 for long journeys.
  • For the plane it is the opposite! The average emission estimate is 285 g of CO2/passenger/km and 88 passengers are considered. Except that in reality, according to Air France, the average occupancy rate of a plane is 85%. Air France’s smallest long and medium haul aircraft has a capacity of 130 seats, or 111 passengers on average.

As for the journey time, I can already hear some of my friends explaining to me that the train is too long… Here again, let’s put things into perspective: the train takes you from one city centre to another. You don’t have an airport shuttle or taxi ride to add to your programme and you don’t have to show up 1 hour before departure. As a bonus, you will have a little more time on the way to sleep, read or work. In addition to the good ecological conscience, I find it a nice compromise.

If you’re French and a bit of a complainer (did I just say the same thing twice?! ? ), you’ll tell me that the SNCF doesn’t keep its commitments in terms of timetables and frequency of service. It’s not wrong…but it’s less true on long journeys and then the competition arrives in force. So don’t be so quick to dismiss your ecological intentions.

Business trips, you will optimize!

Prior to COVID, business travel alone accounted for about 30% of all flights.

Fortunately, the health crisis has highlighted the fact that many meetings and appointments are not necessary in person. Collaborative messaging, telephone and teleconferences do the job very well!

Obviously, nothing beats human contact and a real face-to-face meeting. Our body language, our bodily communication, plays a huge part in the quality of an interaction. If you’ve been to a job interview recently, I think you know what I mean. Our empathic capacity is not the same behind a screen. Can you imagine announcing a redundancy on Zoom for example? No, of course not; that would be cold and inhumane. However, let’s be reasonable and organised enough to determine which business actions cannot be done without face-to-face and which other tasks can be handled virtually.

Finally, if business requires you to travel by plane, then: “Think about flying light – go to the toilet before departure and avoid heavy luggage – and favour direct flights rather than those with stopovers, as they are 50% more polluting on the same journey.

Let’s also use business travel management tools that allow you to limit your environmental impact; I’m thinking of TravelPerk, which offers the possibility of offsetting 100% of the carbon emissions linked to your travels.

Who you give money to, you choose!

Again, these are healthy consumer habits. You need to find out about and choose your providers according to your priorities. The index of the least polluting airlines produced by the German NGO Atmosfair will certainly help you in this respect. Click on the picture to find out.

Astmosfair Airline Index 2018 coverage

Cock-a-doodle-doo! You will see that the French company Transavia.com is one of the best.

It has managed to save up to 10% of fuel across its entire fleet. This saving was achieved thanks to the start-up SAFETY LINE, whose work consists of optimising the pilots’ behaviour, particularly during the take-off phase, which is very energy-intensive. Thanks to the judicious use of data collected on the aircraft (Big Data), combined with local weather conditions, Safety Line’s predictions significantly improve the carbon footprint of your trip.

Air France is one of the worst performers in the Atmosfair index, ranking 73rd. However, since 2019, the airline has offered its customers the possibility of offsetting the CO2 emissions linked to their travel. This option is offered when purchasing a ticket under the heading “Plant a tree”.

By choosing your transport providers carefully, you are setting the direction and trend of the market. The companies that will survive will be those that integrate these new trends into their business model. We can take advantage of this major economic crisis to encourage the hard-hit sector to move more quickly towards the ecological transition.

If there is one sector that can be transformed, it is the airline industry!

The aviation industry and airlines are a remarkable pool of high-level engineers, researchers and scientists, most of whom are passionate!
So if there is one sector that has the means to transform itself, it is this one.
Innovation itself is the reason for aviation’s existence. When you think that in a century we have gone from the Wright brothers’ plane in 1903 to the A380 in the 2000s: that is just remarkable!

Why not remain optimistic about the airline industry’s ability to renew and innovate again and again?

Prototype avion hydrogene Airbus

All the more so as considerable progress has already been made and it is important to appreciate it:
Over the last 70 years, CO2 emissions per passenger have decreased by 80%. As mentioned above, air travel accounts for only 3.5% of the CO2 equivalent emissions caused by transport.

Manufacturers have launched major research and development programmes to achieve energy efficiency one day (batteries, hydrogen, synthetic paraffin, etc.). Airbus has announced a commercial hydrogen aircraft for 2035! In just 14 years.
This is not a fanciful projection when you consider that in the United States, Zeroavia has already flown a 6-seater hydrogen aircraft!

In the meantime, the responsibility of consumers and airlines would be to include in the price of tickets both carbon compensation and paraffin taxation. So let’s forget about the €60 return tickets (including tax) offered by low-cost airlines. They alone are a scandal in terms of ecological morality and do not contribute positively to the financial needs of R&D.

This is the price we will have to pay to maintain aviation activity in our lifestyles and to accompany its transformation.

I will end this article by explaining why I am so keen to defend the survival of the airline industry.

Because when we only discuss carbon impact, we forget that aviation is the result of one of humanity’s wildest dreams. The dream of flying!

Being critical of the current functioning of commercial aviation should not prevent us from considering the emotional, cultural, historical and spiritual dimension of travel.

The Little Prince

Between economic protectionism, Brexit and pandemics…we seem to be living in a time when inward-looking attitudes are gaining ground.

Travel should no longer be seen as a leisure activity like any other, but rather as a necessary source of newfound freedom and encounters.
My next trip will be an effort to uproot myself, to actively distance myself from my environment and my culture. A momentary way to get away from myself, from my habits, from my conditioning, which fix me in a narrow reality (²).

In short and less lyrically, along with reading, I see travel as a way to work on opening my mind.

I share with you my resolutions for the year 2021:

As a citizen of the world, I will be attentive to the impact of all my activities on the environment:

  • I will no longer consume Fast Fashion
  • I will only change my smart phone if it breaks
  • I will install a wood stove at home
  • I will limit streaming in favour of reading
  • I will ride my bike as often as possible.
  • I will take the plane if other means of transport cannot replace it efficiently and by accepting to pay the right price.

I will not give up the desire to travel! It is a question of the maturity of my soul, because as Henri Miller, a travel writer I particularly like, said:

“A destination is never a place, but a new way of looking at things”.

Henri Miller

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

Sources : 


(1)  Franck Herbert, la Mort Blanche, 1982 (pour les amateurs d’autres formes de voyages ?)
(²) Paragraphe directement inspiré d’un extrait de « Petit éloge de l’errance » de Akira MIZUBAYASHI.
Voici un comparateur des moyens de transport clair et simple de compréhension, vous pouvez consulter le site de l’Ademe ici

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