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"Flight shame" could hurt airlines as travelers shun air travel

Swedish singer Stafan Lindberg coined the term "flygskam," or flight shame, in 2017 when he pledged to give up flying because of the carbon emissions jets produce, worsening climate change. Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg put that principle into action in August when she crossed the Atlantic by yacht to come to New York for the United Nations climate summit.

Now consumer concerns over the environmental impact of flying could start to hurt airlines and plane manufacturers' business, a new survey shows. 

One in five people in the U.S., France, England and Germany said they reduced the number of flights they took over the past year, citing air travel's impact on the climate, according to a UBS survey of 6,000 people. Twenty-four percent of Americans, versus 16% of British respondents, said they flew less, the investment bank found. Overall, more than a quarter of respondents said they'd considering changing their flying habits.

"With the pace of the climate change debate, we think it is fair to assume that these trends are likely to continue in developed markets," the UBS analysts said in the report. 

Global aviation accounts for 2% of the world's carbon emissions and 12% of all transport emissions, according to the Air Transport Action Group, an aviation industry group. 

Greta Thunberg reaches NYC after sailing across the Atlantic 02:44

If flight shame were to spread, or perhaps even become a full-fledged environmental movement, the growth in airline passengers could be cut in half, according to UBS. Any dip in air travel would also hurt airline manufacturers if travelers use other means of transport.

To lessen the aviation industry's climate impact, as well as perhaps to soothe travelers' guilty conscience, airlines are increasingly investing in hybrid-electric batteries and other technologies to reduce their emissions, according to UBS. Airlines are also studying the use of bio-fuels for long-haul flights. 

"The industry is also exploring fuel cells and liquid hydrogen uses are gaining support, but in our view these are very early days. These technologies could be available for commercial application in 15+ years," the analysts wrote.

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