You shouldn't feel guilty about flying if it's essential, according to this expert. Here's what else you can do to reduce your 'flight shame'.

Should you feel guilty for flying? Image: iStock
  • Last week Sir Richard Branson addressed whether people should feel guilty for flying in an aeroplane, saying “it’s important that we all have an element of guilt”.
  • Professor Anthony Capon, director of Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute, however believes that people shouldn’t feel guilty if their travel is essential.
  • Capon also advised that when travelling, you should consider how long you travel for.

Australians don’t need to feel guilty for air travel – if it’s necessary, that is.

On Thursday, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson discussed the issue of “flight guilt” at a Virgin event in Brisbane. This concept began in Sweden with the term “flygskam” – which translates to “flying shame” – and refers to the guilt one feels of the environmental impact of flying in an aeroplane, according to the ABC.

At the event, Branson said “it’s important that we all have an element of guilt” but that businesses have a greater part to play to reduce their carbon footprints.

“It’s up to us companies to get our footprint down and down and down so people don’t feel guilty,” he said.

Professor Anthony Capon, director of Monash Sustainable Development Institute explained that flight guilt was about reflecting on your need to travel. He also said we shouldn’t feel guilty for travel when it was necessary.

“Australians shouldn’t feel guilty about essential business travel,” Capon told Business Insider Australia. “But I think the point of flight guilt…is requiring people to think carefully about whether or not their travel is essential.

“It’s important that we only travel by air when we need to and that we find other ways of connecting using potentially new technologies like audio conferencing and video conferencing as an alternative.”

But Australians love to travel and not just for business. Capon acknowledged that travel for Australians is like “a rite of passage for young people” whether they’re heading to Asia or Europe.

So when it comes to leisure travel, Capon said you should still think about whether you need to travel – and if the answer is yes – then consider how long you’re travelling for. Essentially, he suggested that you should find ways to “maximise the value” of your flight.

“So that might mean considering travelling a shorter distance to a closer location. If you’re travelling a long distance, looking to stay in the places that you’ve travelled to for a longer period,” he said.

“And perhaps if you’re travelling on business, thinking about how you might have multiple business encounters during a period of travel, rather than just point to point travel, for…a single purpose.”

Rail or air travel

While there are alternatives to flying – such as using the train – Capon acknowledged Australia’s lack of adequate fast rail systems.

He added that in Europe it’s possible for people to travel to many places via train. “That’s partly because governments in Europe have been better in investing in rail-based transport over an extended period. But it’s also partly because the population densities are greater.”

He also mentioned countries like Japan and China where their governments have also invested in fast trains.

Australia on the other hand, is lacking in that department. Capon suggested that Australia needs to develop alternatives for fast intercity travel for routes encompassing Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

“We should have done that years ago in fact and it’s ever more urgent that we do that,” he said. “We shouldn’t just be talking about it when the technologies have improved a lot.”

Another element Capon suggested was airlines should think about investing in rail systems themselves, like Virgin Group has with Virgin Trains in the UK.

“Our Qantas needs to be thinking about mobility that’s not just moving people in aeroplanes,” he said. “Could Qantas be getting involved in ground travelling and encouraging the Australian Government to invest in fast rail?”

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