Flight Shame, is it present or not?

By Niels Tabingh Suermondt & Roosmarijn van Tuuren

In 2018 the word ‘flight shame’ made its debut into the dictionary. It was even exclaimed as word of the year. The origin of this word lies in Sweden and refers to the shame a person experiences when he or she travels by plane, even though there are a few environmentally friendly alternatives for travelling. In recent years people have become more and more aware of the consequences of climate change, this could result in the feeling of guilt they are experiencing. 

Environmental impact 

It is known to almost everyone that travelling by plain is not particularly good for our climate. Moreover, flying is by far the most environmentally unfriendly way of transport.  At this moment, the aerial sector is responsible for broadly 2%of the total CO2-emissions around the world. Despite the more environmentally friendly airplanes and many other developments airplane builders and universities are working on, it is expected that the aviation sector will impact climate change even more in the future. “the number of passengers and the large distances is the problem”.


Furthermore, flying could have negative consequences on a person's health. The incineration of kerosene, which is the fuel of airplanes, releases greenhouse gasses and particular matter in the atmosphere that could infiltrate the lungs and bloodstream of humans. 

Taking action

By implanting a flying and kerosene taxation, the Dutch government would like to increase the prices of airplane tickets to combat the disastrous impact of climate change. Politicians believe that taxation is the key to the solution, but the revenues of the Dutch flying taxation are not necessarily beneficial for the environment. The taxation will be the same for short- and long-distance flights, while the length of the flight is crucial for its environmental impact. Moreover, in the past year, the number of flights from the Netherlands increased by 3%, which is proportional to the decrease in holidays by car. Research suggests that ‘the typical Dutch person’ does not really consider the impact of their flight behaviour on the climate. The effect of flying on climate change isn’t a reason to decrease their flying behaviour or even laying the airplane aside at all. It seems like the Dutch aren’t taken over by flight shame yet and that they still explore the world as they have always done. Of course, exceptions are to be found, but these are often still small scale.


The airlines are aware of the fact that more and more travellers think that the environment is an important subject. Therefore, a few airlines take into account that they have to be responsible and take actions to reduce the impact. Nevertheless, these actions deliver a very small result when you compare them to the overall flight problem. Besides that, dramatic interference with the flight industry could cause undermined economies, troubles for employment and could procrastinate a solution for the environment. Right now there is a flight industry where people can invest. If this investment power is suddenly taken away, there may never be a good solution for the environment.


To decrease the number of flights, alternative travel options have to become more attractive. To this day, airplane fares are often cheaper than train tickets to the same location. Besides, the journey per plane is considerably quicker than all of its alternatives. For many travellers, this means that their choice is quickly locked in. A conclusion that could be made from this, is that for most travellers the environmental unfriendly consequence of flying still doesn’t impact them enough to make more sustainable decisions. The government has to play a key role in informing their civilians to make them more conscious of the consequences of flying, which would result in behavioural changes of travellers. Besides, the state should implement price incentives, such as kerosene taxation, to make more sustainable travel alternatives more alluring.

There is still a long way to go to decrease the emissions made by the aviation sector. The more consequence of climate change will be visible, the more people will experience flight shame, which hopefully results in more environmentally conscious behaviour of travellers.

A quick tip for your next holiday: try someplace closer to home and/or consider the alternative travel options.