‘Flight Shame’ has Swedes stay on the ground

“Flygskam”, or flight shame is a movement which have gained enough buzz in Sweden to make people stay on the ground and be shameful of air travel. Flygskam encourages people to take train over plane to lower carbon emissions.

Commercial flights currently make up around 2.5% of global carbon emissions which is certain to be increased with increase in volume of air travel. According to European Environment Agency, an average plane trip emits 285 grams of carbon dioxide, while similar train journey would emit only 14 grams. Therefore, taking a train over plane do save the environment.

The movement was started by 16-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg, when she refused to travel by plane to World Economic Forum conference in Davos from Stockholm and instead took train. Since then, hashtags #Flygskam and #stayonthergound has taken hold of social media.


The buzz created by the movement is actually having an impact on the Swedish air sector. Passenger numbers at Swedish airports have declined by 8% till April 2019 as compared to last year. The first quarter airpassenger’s volume fell by 5% in first quarter while rest of the Europe’s passengers’ numbers rose by 4.4%.The domestic flights have taken a big blow as compared to international with passenger numbers down by 15% in April alone. This fall in domestic flights could be due to other factors as well. However, a recent survey suggests ‘Flygskam’ is an important contributor, a quarter of swedes said they are not flying to save the planet. Rickard Gustafson, the chief executive of SAS, one of Scandinavian largest airlines blamed Flygskam movement, saying that he is convinced that the movement is behind the fall of air travel in Sweden.

So, the question arises that can such a movement be emulated in a developing country like India. One-word answer would be, MAYBE. A country like Sweden have developed air and rail transport sectors allowing people to actually make a switch. While country like India is still developing these sectors and taking train over plane couldn’t always be an option due to various inherent geographical complexities. Also, rail trips within India can be long crossing at least 24 hours in long distance journeys which an average flight would take 3-4 hours.

But Swedish change was also difficult as swedes were the highest air travelers in the world, traveling 5 times more than the world average. As no change is easy, Indian air travelers could also try by not completely abstaining from air travel but preferring train over plane whenever possible to make their bit in saving the planet.

Shelly  is a student of IIM, Ahmedabad.


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