How anti-flying ideas of corporations hit the airlines

Not only individual eco-activists but also entire corporations are already thinking about the dangers of flights. They refuse to pay for airline tickets and replace business trips with online negotiations. Such sentiments are already seriously affecting airlines.

To mark the receipt of investments of $ 460 million, the financial startup Klarna Bank called 600 employees from Stockholm to the September corporate event in Berlin. But instead of going to the airport, getting on a plane and in 90 minutes to be in the capital of Germany, programmers, department heads and sales managers went to the station – they had a 15-hour train and bus journey. The company that deals with online payments has banned the flights of employees in Europe. Also, the company does not encourage longer air travel. “We strive to become a fully carbon-neutral company,” explains Robert Bünink, head of the German division of Klarna, who regularly travels to London, Brussels and other cities by train. “After all, we understand what is happening with our planet.”

Like Klarna, many companies in Europe have recently been revising travel policies, and ordinary tourists are increasingly wondering if it is worth harming the environment for the sake of flying to a warm place. Sweden has already come up with the special term flygskam – a sense of shame for flights. A close English-language analog of the censure of those who use the services of air carriers is flysheaming. But whatever the name of this phenomenon, it seriously threatens the airline business in Europe and beyond. SAS says that over the past nine months (data as of July 30, 2019), passenger traffic decreased by 2% compared to the same period a year earlier. At one of the airports in Sweden, there is also a decrease in the number of passengers on domestic flights by 9%. Both companies associate these events with flysheaming.

“Undoubtedly, these anti-flying moods will only intensify and spread,” said Alexander de Junyak, Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA). “And the authorities certainly won’t take our side.”

In France, where the hashtag #avihonte (a local counterpart to flytipping) is actively spreading, lawmakers are already proposing radical measures – even banning most domestic flights. The Austrian Federal Railways (the largest railway carrier in Europe offering night crossings in sleeping cars) purchased 13 new trains with equipped berths. The company explained the action by the increased interest in long trips, which was caused by concern about the environment. In Germany, it is planned to reduce taxes on rail travel by two-thirds, and fees for air travel, on the contrary, to increase.

“We want to lower the price of train tickets and increase the cost of air travel. Then the price will reflect a greater extent the damage that different types of transport cause to the environment, ”says German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz about upcoming measures.

This year, airlines emitted 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And the UN predicts that for 30 years the aviation industry will overtake the energy industry in terms of emissions of harmful substances. Numerous environmental organizations such as Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion (Rebellion Against Extinction), as well as environmental activist Greta Tunberg, add fuel to the fire, recalling the role of airlines in global warming. “How dare you pretend that all this can be eliminated with the help of some technology there? – said at the UN summit on climate, Thunberg, who herself travels across Europe by train, and reached New York on a sailing yacht. “You let us down.”

The change in the habits of corporate clients can hit hardest on the airline business. Finnish bank Nordea plans to reduce flights by 7% and introduce an internal fee for involvement in air emissions. German television company Tele 5 announced in June that it would no longer pay for flights for 60 of its employees. And the consulting company PwC and the Swiss insurer Zurich Insurance Group say that they want to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per employee by one third, mainly due to the reduction in air travel.

“We are increasingly meeting in the virtual space,” explains Alison Martin, CEO of Zurich in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. “It’s not at all necessary to fly somewhere to carry out your work.”

European carriers are now in the greatest danger – short-haul flights in which they specialize can theoretically be replaced by train travel. The change caught the airline at the most unfortunate moment. In the UK (the main market for air carriers), consumers are not very willing to spend money due to jitters ahead of Brexit. About half a dozen European carriers have already gone bankrupt in the past two years, unable to cope with falling prices, slowing economic growth and rising fuel prices, aircraft congestion, and difficult weather conditions.

To emphasize its environmental friendliness and reduce concern about the dangers of air travel, KLM even tried to convince customers to at least sometimes refuse to travel. “A train or other options can be more environmentally friendly, especially when it comes to a short trip,” the carrier’s commercial, which specializes in hours-long flights, said in an ad. In August, Lufthansa’s German CEO Karsten Spur lashed out at low-cost carriers, telling Bloomberg Television that super-cheap rates are driving people to fly, even when it’s not necessary, and the whole industry is becoming an easy target for eco-activists. “I don’t think that tickets for € 4.99 serve any special purpose,” he said then. Soon, Ryanair sent out letters to its German customers. They said that Spur’s words only reminded of the obvious: the low prices of the low-cost airline and the minimum level of emissions into the atmosphere, which was achieved thanks to tightly packed aircraft.

In essence, the representatives of air carriers have nothing to answer – they still have very few opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint. Even even though manufacturers have released several more efficient models of aircraft, the emission per passenger is still four times higher than that of trains. And thousands of old aircraft continue to fly, as their lifespan has not yet ended. Environmental compensation programs (airlines may, for example, offer clients donate funds for tree planting) could reduce passenger anxiety, but in practice few use them, and tons of carbon dioxide are still emitted during each flight to the atmosphere.

Given that no breakthrough is foreseen in the field of hybrid or electric aircraft until 2030, the problem remains unsolvable, says Tim Clark, Emirates CEO. “In the next 20 years, we will see hybrid aircraft that can fly short distances,” he said at the September conference in London. “But with flights over long distances, things are much more complicated.”

Graduated from Embry-Riddle Aviation University with a master's degree in aviation science. He began his career as an aviation researcher in local periodicals. Has a pilot license. Now are the author and developer of the Plane Worlds.