Domestic air travel could shrink because of 'flight shaming': Lufthansa Munich CEO
August 21 2019 07:40 PM
Alex Macheras
Alex Macheras

By Alex Macheras

The domestic air travel market in Germany will face growth challenges due to ‘flight shaming’, according to Lufthansa’s Hub Munich CEO, Wilken Bormann. In an exclusive interview at Lufthansa’s second-largest hub in Munich, Bormann told this correspondent he believed flight shaming will have an impact on Lufthansa flights within Germany.

“There is a flight shaming phenomenon, and we really have a huge responsibility to produce everything more sustainable” he explained. ‘Flight shaming’ — a concept that first emerged in Sweden, known as flygskam, encourages the feeling of being embarrassed or ashamed to fly on commercial aircraft because of the environmental impact.

The chief executive of one of Scandinavia’s largest airlines blamed the “flight shame” movement for a fall in passenger numbers in Sweden, where the concern about climate change has inspired people — especially young people — to give up flying and take the train instead. In Seoul, South Korea, CEO of Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) Rickard Gustafson told this correspondent that he believes the flight shaming movement is responsible for the slump in Swedish air traffic, which fell over 5% in the first quarter of 2019. By contrast, passenger numbers rose by 4.4% in Europe during the same period.

“Of course, we will see that domestic air travel has shrunk” Bormann admitted, adding “or it will be stable and not grow fast like before”. When asked if there will be fewer domestic Lufthansa flights from Munich over the coming years, Bormann said, “I expect there will not be fast growth that we have seen so far.”

Bormann explained that the airlines’ focus in Munich is very much on intercontinental travel, explaining “we are focusing on growth for the internal business, and that’s the reason why we are bringing additional A380 and A350 aircraft to Munich.”

At a private event in the First Class lounge, Lufthansa revealed to a handful of guests that the two next A350s due for delivery (the airlines’ 16th and 17th models) will be based at Munich. “We planned on bringing the first 10 to Munich, instead we brought 15 — and now we will add two more,” Bormann said.

The relationship between Lufthansa and its main hub Frankfurt Airport has been under strain for quite some time now and Lufthansa’s commitment to further enhancing its long-haul network at Munich (by adding A350s and A380s) signals the airlines’ commitment to its second-largest hub — and an alternative to Frankfurt.

“We get good feedback from passengers using our Munich hub. Over 50% are transfer passengers, and for them "connectivity is key.”

It’s clear aviation industry CEOs are recognising flight shaming as a potential threat to passenger traffic — but it’s worth highlighting how, for the overwhelming majority of European countries, air travel demand is continuing to increase year-on-year. But while the numbers may ease fears of flight shaming hurting aviation as a whole, several airlines are concerned about their role in the climate crisis.

Dutch airline KLM has launched a new campaign to confront the environmental impact of air travel known as “Fly Responsibly”. The campaign launched with a video that seemingly encourages viewers to fly less. “Do you always have to meet face-to-face? Could you take the train instead?” it asks, suggesting that the Dutch flag carrier is also taking the threat of flight shaming seriously by actively encouraging passengers to reconsider booking their next flight.

*The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir

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