Recently I was in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, and during my visit I was surprised to learn that the capital’s airport has a declining number of passengers travelling through the airport. How could this be in the age of discounted air travel with so many Europeans taking advantage of cheap travel?
Well, the Swedish-born movement of ‘flight shaming’, or ‘flygskam’ in its native tongue, calls for curbs to air travel due to its environmental impact and has gained prominence over the past year. I also guess that the Swedes feel they need to set an example as Greta Thunberg hits the media headlines whenever she speaks out.
As a result, in Sweden the trains have benefited greatly with passenger numbers up 11 per cent in 2019. We also need to take note that the switch from air to rail travel has not just impacted internal travel but travel internationally especially to Germany.
It is not only in Sweden where people are making a conscious decision to switch to rail travel and in the Netherlands rail passenger numbers last year were up by 14pc and in Spain they were up by 5pc. Whilst more leisure journeys are being taken by train there is also a rise in the number of business travellers who are switching from plane to train.
Today around 5pc of global CO2 emissions are the responsibility of the aviation industry and with aircraft orders in the pipeline the numbers of us travelling by air in the coming years is expected to rise.
According to the Council on Clean Transportation, a US based non-profit organisation, it estimates just 3pc of the global population regularly take to the skies. Even in rich countries in Europe and the USA around only half of the population fly in any given year and only around 12 to 15pc of them are frequent fliers.
Flying mile for mile is the most damaging way to travel when it comes to environmental damage. On a return flight from London to San Francisco around 5.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per person are emitted. This is more than twice the emissions produced by a family car in a year.
In a five-year period up to 2018 the emissions from planes rose by 32pc. Yes, planes are becoming more fuel efficient in the order of around 1pc per annum, but the number of flights are increasing by 6 percent.
So, what can we do? We all know that travelling up the front of the plane is much more polluting per passenger because of the increased space for each passenger. Travelling on a long-haul first-class seat is four times more polluting than up the back in economy. Not too sure if today’s first-class passengers are willing to consider turning right when they get on the plane.
We can choose to fly with an airline that has newer, less polluting aircraft. I must hold my hand up and admit that on my flights back to Europe on my favourite airline I travel on planes that are over 20 years old. Some of them I flew out of Riyadh in the mid-1990s when they were first introduced.
Another thought is to travel with less stuff. Here I can hold my head up and admit that my bag normally weighs around 12kg when I fly back to London from Bahrain.
Food for thought.