With parts of their country nestled in the Arctic Circle, it's no wonder Swedes have relied on air travel to warm their frozen toes in the more temperate southern climates.
The mass exodus from northern Europe to the south generally begins towards the end of summer, reaching its peak when winter projects entire days in darkness.
But today, more and more Swedes are taking the longest way out of town, using the train and the boat. Anything but an airplane. A big reason for this is the growing stigma around airplanes as a source of gases that warm the planet. With some 20,000 aircraft in service around the world, and 50,000 expected in the air by 2040, you can imagine the increasing burden of air travel on our increasingly deteriorating atmosphere.
Many Swedes certainly do. In fact, air travel has become a subject of so much shame and contempt that there is even a new word: flygskam, which literally translates to "flight shame."
And if you like the train, you can take pride in the term “tågskry”, which literally translates to “bragging”.
It all adds up to fewer passengers at airports, as Swedes clamor at the train and bus stations. Local flights, in particular, are feeling the flygskam. The number of domestic passengers has decreased by 15 percent in April, compared to the same month last year.
Furthermore, one in four Swedes recently surveyed cites the environment as the most important reason for keeping their feet on the ground. It also helps when celebrities like opera singer Malena Ernman publicly declare that they will never fly again.
And who would not be carried away by the passion of his daughter, Greta Thunberg, 16 years old? The famous climate activist has not stepped on a plane since 2015. In fact, when Thunberg toured Europe last month, it was by bus. His round trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, involved more than 60 hours on various trains, in contrast to the record number of private jets carrying wealthy attendees in and out of the forum.
But can environmental embarrassment really threaten the industry?
Rickard Gustafson, CEO of Scandinavian Airlines, seems to think so. In a recent interview with a Danish newspaper, he said he was convinced that the flygskam movement was damaging air traffic.
Even more worrisome, at least for the industry, is the possibility that the flygskam will spread its wings beyond northern Europe.
At an airline summit in Seoul this week, the Swedish move proved to be an important talking point among industry leaders.
"Without question, this feeling will grow and spread," Alexandre de Juniac, head of the International Air Transport Association, warned attendees.
Could Flygskam fly across the ocean to North America? We could certainly use inspiration, especially considering the vast distances trains can take us to a continent completely sewn together by railroad tracks.
And even though cars are not innocent when it comes to greenhouse gases, according to scientists, cars and trucks account for almost a fifth of all U.S. emissions, they are turning dramatically. more clean. Even today, cars are a better environmental bet than airplanes.
As The New York Times points out, Americans simply have to take a round-trip flight between New York and California to produce about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that their car generates in a year.
Of course, there is a small detail about the movement that does not get as much attention. How much vacation time do Northern Europeans have? Would you be comfortable asking your boss for a month's vacation so you can use a bus instead of a plane?
Just tell him it's not for you. It is for the planet.