The Dutch airline KLM recently launched an advertising campaign called “Fly responsiblyIn 2019, it is remarkable that it seems to encourage spectators to fly less. “Do you always have to meet face to face?” The ad asks. “Could you take the train instead?”
The impact of climate action on Greta Thunberg probably explains why airlines feel compelled to say these things. Flight of shame – or “flight of shame”- caught many regular pilots with a sense of concern for the aviation industry, which consumes five million barrels of oil per day and is expected to report around 22% of global carbon emissions until 2050
European high-speed rail networks already offer an alternative to air traffic between European countries for distances of less than 1000 kilometers. For longer journeys, sleeping trains are becoming increasingly popular. These services work at night and offer passengers a place to sleep. As more and more consumers question the ethics of their next flight, railway companies are seeing an opportunity – and competition with airlines is intensifying.
But can night trains help offset the international travel most people currently make by plane?
The revival of European night trains
From 2009 to 2018, the European night train network shrank steadily. The same is true for conventional intercity train networks, especially in Southern and Western Europe. This made air travel the only alternative to many routes. But this seems to be changing.
When German Rail decided to withdraw its network of night passenger trains in 2015, the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) decided to take over part of its services. In 2017, ÖBB Nightjet’s services spread 1.4 million passengers, which doubles the total number of passengers compared to the previous year.
In 2018, ÖBB achieved another 10% increase in the number of passengers. ÖBB CEO Andreas Mate said that “night services are a viable alternative to short-haul flightsAnd it is committed to continuing to invest in new services. As a result, ÖBB is expanding its routes to The NightJet network on sleeping trains. From January 2020, night trains will run again between Vienna and Brussels, 16 years after the service closed.
In the United Kingdom, The Great Western Railway plans to update the sleeping train travels to Cornwall. The Caledonian sleeper, which runs between London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, has been refurbished with an investment of £ 150 million in new trains.
In response to a public petition, the Swedish government is planning re-enter night train services to other European countries. Sleeping train from Malmö in southern Sweden to London is scheduled for 2022 at the earliest. The service can leave in the evening and arrive in the English capital at noon the next day. At almost 807 miles (1,300 kilometers), the journey is typical of the many rail journeys that could offset those currently taking place between European countries by plane.
An alternative to air travel?
The CEOs of the aviation industry are worried that the flight embarrassment could endanger passenger traffic and in some countries this seems to be already happening. Swedavia, the airline that operates ten of Sweden’s busiest airports, reports a decline of 4% for passengers in 2019 compared to the previous year. The decrease is mainly for domestic travel, while the number of international passengers has decreased to a lesser extent. However, European air traffic continues have grown by 4.2% in 2019..
It is too early to say whether the revival of the night train is a constant trend caused by flight of shame. However, environmental awareness still motivates passengers’ choices.
Researchers who have recently studied user profiles in different markets have identified a new one: “ecological traveler”. People who fall into this market segment try to maintain a lifestyle that is as environmentally friendly as possible – and that includes reducing the number of flights they make.
But researchers have found that awareness of the environmental crisis does not automatically translate into behavioral changes, such as choosing other modes of transport over air travel. Most often, distance or price are more powerful motives, especially for short and medium routes.
A recent study from the Netherlands found that passengers traveling for leisure seem to be most attracted to the possibility of night trains. It is possible that night train services simply generate new demand from these customers instead of replacing existing airline passengers. Researchers found that 40% of business travelers still chose to fly the day before and stay at a hotel instead, although many find the relative comfort of sleeping trains attractive.
Research conducted on behalf of the European Parliament is much more pessimistic, concluding that there are more challenges than opportunities to increase night trains in Europe. Chief among them is the continued growth of low-cost airlines. Infrastructure costs they are currently banning long-distance night trains, which could tempt more passengers than these planes. Subsidies and investments may be needed to expand the rail networks in order for the sector to compete with aviation. Get airlines to pay fuel duty can also help.
Meanwhile, flight of shame it can still be effective if it means that people keep up the pressure on the aviation industry to reform and reduce its growing carbon footprint.